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State bill would prevent surprise sexually violent predator placement

According to the Megan’s Law Database, there were 13 sexually violent predators reportedly living in San Diego County in 2019, eight them in East County.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — Two state senators representing San Diego County have co-authored a bipartisan bill introduced this week that would prevent the state from placing sexually violent predators in unsuspecting communities.

Sen. Brian Jones, R-Santee, and Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, along with Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, wrote the Sexually Violent Predator Accountability, Fairness, and Enforcement Act following high-profile incidents of California's state hospitals attempting to place SVPs in East and North San Diego County.

"The recent cases of Douglas Badger and Merle Wakefield fit an ongoing pattern of deceit and deception by the Department of State Hospitals," Jones said. "Families throughout Mt. Helix, Ranchita, Borrego Springs and Rancho Bernardo were jolted by the state's attempt to put an SVP in their neighborhoods.

"Thankfully in these cases, judges have intervened and prevented the forced and dangerous placements of SVPs into inappropriate neighborhoods," he said.

According to the Megan’s Law database, there were 13 sexually violent predators reportedly living in San Diego County in 2019, eight them in East County.

“We live 500 feet away from this house that they’re supposedly going to house these violent predators at, so we’re outraged,” said Chris Jones, who lives in Mount Helix. 

He and his family attended one of the protests held against the placements of Badger and Wakefield. 

If passed, Senate Bill 841 would:

  • Place a hard limit on the placement of SVPs within a county to no more 40% in any one supervisorial district;
  • Mandate that the director of the Department of State Hospitals publicly report annually how many SVPs are in each county, and in which supervisorial district;
  • Make public safety the highest criteria of any potential placement of an SVP;
  • Require the DSH to take ownership in the process by approving any placements before the vendor can sign any leases for placement locations; and
  • Require the DSH, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Department, and the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to report to the governor and state Legislature any inventory of facilities that could house SVPs.

"For too long the state has been sneaking around trying to release or parole dangerous sexually violent predators and rapists in residential neighborhoods," Jones said. "State Hospital officials have often tried to duck their responsibility by giving their vendors, such as Liberty Health Care, too much freedom in targeting regions such as East and North County.

"Unfortunately, this problem is not unique to San Diego," he said. "The SAFE Act will require transparency in the SVP placement process, force state officials to own up to their decisions, and make public safety the highest priority."

Richard Freye, a member of Kid Safe California, says there are about 700 SVPs currently under state supervision. Ten to 15 of them will be released this year, but it’s unknown exactly where they’ll be placed.

“They’re going to require the Director of State Hospitals to report back on where SVPs are being placed. Where are they right now and how many are being placed in each district and each county?” Freye said. 

Senator Jones says it’s also important that the community weigh in on the issue. If the bill passes and is signed by the Governor, it will become effective immediately.

WATCH RELATED: San Diego supervisor Jim Desmond speaks to News 8 about sexually violent predator placement

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