It is a rising problem in California... dangerous and high risk sex offenders on the loose. These are predators who've served time in prison and are now back in the community.
One of those sex offenders was arrested Sunday for fondling a student in the library at Fresno State. 48-year-old Fidel Tafoya cut off his GPS ankle monitor just eight days before he assaulted the student. In a special report, CBS47s Kathryn Herr shows you why the sex offenders are getting bolder... and the punishment that's no longer in place.
Kathryn interviewed a registered sex offender who lives in the Central Valley. We disguised his face and his voice, because he says speaking out puts him at risk from other sex offenders. He said, "There's people out there you need to lock your doors for, because if they can get in, they will. And if they can take your children, they will. I have met these people; I have listened to their stories. They're always looking, they are always, you know, in the hunt."
Because sex offenders are likely to commit new crimes, they're required to wear GPS monitors, strapped to their ankles. The monitors keep track of their every move. One sex offender told us, his friends encouraged him to cut his off. "They said i should cut it off; it's worthless," he said.
Local parole agents tell CBS47, those ankle monitors are being cut off, or the sex offenders aren't bothering to show up to be fitted with one in the first place.
Fresno County Sheriff Margret Mims said, "I have heard that from parole." Those same sex offenders end up in her jail. "My concern is if they think there isn't a bed for them in the jail, they won't listen to their parole agent," said Mims.
That's because the criminals are learning, if there isn't a bed in the county jail, they'll be released. Thirteen months ago, those sex offenders would have been sent back to state prison. The registered sex offender said, "A year ago everybody was held accountable. Now they think they can get away with anything."
So what changed in the past year? Prison realignment took effect in October 2011. The state was ordered by the Supreme Court to lower the prison population to stop overcrowding. The result is the state no longer accepts sex offenders for a parole violation, like cutting off a GPS monitor.
The California Department of Corrections says it's aware these sex offenders are thumbing their nose at the law. Luis Patino with the Department of Corrections said, "There's an obvious concern across the state. We realize that. We realize that it's a valid concern and we're working to fix it."
In Fresno, convicted sex offender Marc McDavitt never reported to parole to get his GPS monitor. He was arrested in August at Roeding Park after parents reported he was approaching little girls in the playground. He's now in the Fresno County Jail.
Convicted rapist Robert Leeper cut off his ankle monitor after he reportedly assaulted a woman in a restroom of the Hall of Records in downtown Fresno in February. "These serious offenders need to know that there is a bed for them in state prison if they violate their parole," said Sheriff Mims.
But unless something changes in the law, the problem will continue. Both Merced and Fresno counties are now turning away parole violators when the jails are full. Only the most dangerous are allowed in. "We have an arrangement with parole. If they have someone they truly feel is a threat to the community, they will call to make sure we keep that person. However, if we keep that person, they may have to choose someone else that has to go out," said Mims.
What that means is these sex offenders, who are not wearing ankle monitors, could be anywhere... the park, the mall, even the fair.
So who is keeping track of these prediters? In Madera County, a detective does random checks at the homes of registered sex offenders, to ensure they are living where they say they are. Detective cobb with the Madera County Sheriff's Department said, "They're less likely to re-offend if we keep tabs on them."
Madera County Sheriff John Anderson says there is only a handful of sex offenders out of compliance. "We have 240 that are required to register. We have 70 or 80 that are in jail. So that kind of excuse them from registration. Out of those 240, we have five that are totally out of compliance that we're looking for," said Anderson.
There is a good chance the missing sex offenders are out committing new crimes. The registered sex offender we spoke with is a father himself, and he watches over his own children very closely. "If we stop watching them for one second, somebody else might start, and we don't want that," he said.
The State Department of Corrections wants to make cutting off a GPS monitor a felony. They plan to work with the legislature to change the law.