COVINGTON, La. (WAFB) - Thanks to a new statewide app, parents can now track if a sex offender tries to contact their child.
Law enforcement agencies have partnered with OffenderWatch to create the new app, called OffenderWatch Safe Virtual Neighborhood. The app monitors Snapchat, texts, emails, GPS location, and phone calls and will send an alert to parents or guardians if a sex offender contacts the child’s device, or if the device stays near the address of a sex offender for an extended amount of time.
Mike Cormaci, co-founder of the app, says after parents get the alert, they should reach out to law enforcement and “stop the communication before it goes into the grooming phase.”
By law, sex offenders are required to submit personal information, including their address, phone number, and email. So, the app stores that information from law enforcement.
“That way when a text message comes across to that phone, the two phone numbers match and that’s what triggers the alert to the parent," Cormaci said.
Casey Rayborn Hicks with the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office says neighborhoods have moved beyond the subdivisions.
“Our streets are a virtual neighborhood,” she said.
Hicks says this partnership is about protecting the kids.
“It’s better to be safe rather than sorry," she said.
“Our mission is to help law enforcement better protect communities from sexual predators, so we’re constantly innovating to offer new solutions to improve safety online and in neighborhoods. As predators continue to groom and solicit children online, we’re helping law enforcement and families combat these efforts before it becomes a tragedy. If Safe Virtual Neighborhood helps to save one child from abuse, it’s worth it,” said Mike Cormaci, president a co-founder of Covington-based Watch Systems, the parent company of OffenderWatch.
Cormaci has been working with law enforcement doing sex registry work for decades. He says there’s an urge to want likes and to add friends on Facebook and some parents aren’t looking up from their phones to ask a simple question: Who are you talking to right now?
The co-founder says research has revealed sex offenders hide behind the keyboard and before you know it,”someone bad could become an intimate friend to a child.”
The Crimes Against Children Research Center says one in five teens has received unwanted sexual solicitation online. In 2018, most of the more than 18 million tips reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children involved:
- Apparent child sexual abuse images
- Online enticement, including “sextortion”
- Child sex trafficking
- Child sexual molestation
“Online safety is a huge problem today. Parents need to be vigilant of what websites their children are visiting and educate their children about not talking to strangers online. I’m proud that Louisiana is the first state to offer families and individuals a better way to stay protected from online predators. Safe Virtual Neighborhood is the only online sex offender safety app partnered with law enforcement, so it’s using data and information the public can trust,” said St. Charles Parish Sheriff Greg Champagne.
HOW IT WORKS
- Parents sign up for Safe Virtual Neighborhood and download the app onto their child’s smartphone device
- The app monitors the child’s Snapchat, text, email, location, and phone call activity in the background without storing the child’s messages or interfering with use
- If a registered sex offender contacts the device, or if the child stays near the address of a sex offender for an extended amount of time, the parent gets an instant notification
- After getting the notification, parents can either talk to their child or contact law enforcement to investigate
Parents or guardians can download the app or learn more about it here. The company says it plans to partner with law enforcement agencies in other states by the end of 2019.