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Keep track, keep safe

230 registered sex offenders live in Santa Clarita

Posted: October 25, 2008 9:38 p.m.
Updated: December 27, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Reserve Deputy Schiro makes sure the Vehicle Identification Number matches the records of a registered Canyon Country sex offender Saturday morning. Around 230 sex offenders call the Santa Clarita Valley their home.

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A body-shop owner, cameraman, pipe fitter, electronics firm owner and others gathered bright and early Saturday at the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station.

Their mission: checking 59 registered sex offenders in Canyon Country to make sure they're abiding by requirements.

The cross section of Santa Clarita Valley residents are all volunteer deputy reserves. At 7:45 a.m., 12 of the 41 local volunteer reserves split into pairs and set off to knock on doors of sex felons.

"These are guys who are successful in their own careers and want to give back to the community," said Deputy Artie Thompson, assistant coordinator of the Santa Clarita Reserve Deputy Program.

"The regular deputies are so busy and don't have time to do these operations. We're fortunate we have the manpower to follow up with these offenders; we couldn't track them as closely without the volunteers."

The 41 uniformed reserve deputies give the Sheriff's Station the resources to "take a proactive approach to reducing crime in Santa Clarita," Thompson said. There are about 230 registered sex offenders in the Santa Clarita Valley, according to Thompson.

Deputies have already tracked the Saugus area and plan to do Valencia later in the year.

Volunteer Deputy Michael Terry, a retired Los Angeles Police Department sergeant, split up the listings by geographical areas. His effort in organizing the entire operation is very appreciated by officials at the Sheriff's Station, Thompson said.

"We both have kids and grandkids all going to school out here," Terry said. "We all live in this valley and want to take care of this valley."

The teams of reserve deputies located the listed homes of sex offenders. If the offenders are home, they must verify that all identifying information is current and properly registered, including license, address, license plates, occupation, telephone number, and even tattoos.

Statistics show checks like these result in a lower rate of additional offenses, according to Detective David Campbell, coordinator of the program.

The reserve deputies said the offenders are almost always cooperative.

The most unusual cases occur when relatives or roommates are unaware the person they are living with is a registered sex offender.

"You can imagine if they didn't tell people they live with, how surprised they would be," Thompson said.

If any information is incorrect, or if an offender is not home, the reserves document the identity and residence.

Saturday's checks mean the reserve deputies help reduce the large number of offenders who need to be examined further by detectives, Thompson said.

"It's (a) productive tool to keep the community safe," he said. "I don't think a lot of communities do what we're doing."

Terry has donated 21 years of his life to serving the reserve program in Santa Clarita. His dedication and reason for commitment echoed that of the other 11 deputies.

"As volunteers, we can contribute in areas that wouldn't be done if we weren't here," he said.

"I have kids, and it's a way to serve the community in a tangible way to keep my own family safe," said Deputy Jerry Ehlen, an employee of The Master's Seminary who has been serving in the reserve program for 15 years.

As the reserves traveled to the different residences, it became clear that sex offenders come in all different sizes, shapes, and backgrounds.

The last check of the day took the deputies to a beautiful home in the back hills of Sand Canyon.

The offender gave the residence as an address when he was registered, according to Terry. Because the residence is within 400 feet of a school bus stop, the location was a violation of code for his offense. The man was asked to move a month ago; eight deputies arrived Saturday to verify the man had moved, but no one was home.

The reserves successfully verified 51 of 59 offenders by the end of their afternoon.

"Giving up this time to help the community, to me that's a big deal," Thompson said.

"They had to go through all the polygraph tests, background check, and training that regular deputies have to go through. It's an incredible thing that they do, it really is."

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