COACHELLA VALLEY, Calif. - With Halloween Wednesday, children across the valley will take to the streets for a night of trick or treating. How do you know whose doors they're knocking on...and if your kids are safe?
Police gave News Channel 3's Jake Ingrassia an exclusive look at their secret operation working behind the scenes to keep tabs on the valley's registered sex offenders.
A special team of Riverside County investigators raided valley homes last week, checking in unannounced on people on parole for committing sex crimes.
The team is a special task force is called SAFE, or Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement, conducting compliance checks to ensure sex offenders are living at the address they're registered at, and that they are following the terms of their parole.
"If somebody is registering and they fall off the radar and no one is checking, no one comes knocking on their door, then eventually I think they sort of get the impression that we’ve lost interest in them ... and maybe that we’re not gonna keep track of them, when it’s not the case," said Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin.
"Everybody on parole probation gets searched," one officer said at the briefing before the raids began. "Everybody that you feel is the slightest bit uncooperative -- if you need to handcuff them, handcuff them."
Investigating Supervisor Sandy Johnson said there are many risks associated with this type of raid.
"There's the potential for anything," Johnson said. "Someone might have a gun, someone might have a weapon of any sort. We just have to be prepared to deal with stuff like that anywhere we go."
The raids first stop -- a parole halfway house in Sky Valley, where a dozen or so of the team's targets live.
"This is probably the location with the most heightened concern for us, safety-wise," Johnson said.
Our camera was rolling as the caravan of task force vehicles approached the property and as police made entry. Police knocked on doors and pulled everyone outside, determining who was on probation or parole and if they were registered as living at that address.
As police conducted those checks, they also searched the homes for any illegal items.
"Any kind of contraband, illegal stuff...anything criminal, anything they're not supposed to have," Johnson said.
As the search continued, we spoke with the manager of the parole house. He said he feels responsible for his parolees.
"I take them to their meetings, or take them to parole, or take them shopping, and it doesn't matter how sick I am or anything, I get up and do it," the manager said.
When asked why he does it, he replied, "Somebody's gotta help these guys."
He said the life-long label of sex offender makes it challenging for his tenants to move forward after prison.
"You commit the crime, you do your time, you do your parole, you should be left alone after that," the manager said. "They're trying to get back their lives. These people have trouble getting jobs just because of the label they got on them. ... We find some people that'll hire them, most people won't."
We brought that concern to District Attorney Mike Hestrin, who said tracking sex offenders helps keep the public safe.
"For the most part, sex offenders are very - they can re-offend," Hestrin said. "There's sort of a compulsion that drives many of them to commit these crimes in the first place. ... They should not be discriminated against, however we've got to make sure that they're living in situations that it's not putting the public at risk."
We learned of the more than 30 checks the SAFE task force conducted, just 3 sex offenders were found to be out of compliance.
Changes are coming to how California sex offenders have to register. They'll be sorted by the severity of their crimes, ranging frmo a 10-year registration up to a lifetime. That new law takes effect in 2021.
"This team's very important," Hestrin said. "It's a critical part of our law enforcement's effort to keep our children safe in this county."
If you're concerned about sex offenders in your neighborhood, you can track them online here.
Noticias en español: Telemundo 15