A Helping Hand for Police and Children

Diane C. Beatty's ChildSafeNet group raised funds for a six-member Fairfax County police squad to monitor and catch child sex predators. Above, in Beatty's office, a map details addresses of schools and offenders' homes.
Diane C. Beatty's ChildSafeNet group raised funds for a six-member Fairfax County police squad to monitor and catch child sex predators. Above, in Beatty's office, a map details addresses of schools and offenders' homes. (By Dayna Smith For The Washington Post)
By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 17, 2007

It seemed like a long shot. Five years ago, Diane C. Beatty wanted to raise millions of dollars to help Fairfax County police combat sexual predators, both on the Internet and in neighborhoods.

But she did it. By badgering local and federal officials, Beatty's ChildSafeNet raised $1.6 million, and Fairfax police created a Sexual Predator Enforcement and Apprehension Detail within their sex crimes unit, allowing six detectives to work proactively to prevent sex offenders from preying on the young and vulnerable.

Launched in October 2004, the unit has monitored registered sex offenders to make sure they are living and working where they claim to be, and that they aren't committing offenses. Police said the number of offenders "out of compliance" with state laws has steadily dropped since the detail's detectives began checking on them, from 35 percent in 2005 to 23 percent so far this year.

At a recent news conference about the program's early results, Police Chief David M. Rohrer said detectives in the sexual predator detail "very quickly established themselves as experts" and launched exhaustive felony investigations, as well as monitoring convicted felons.

"This partnership truly has been unique," Rohrer said. "We've had stumbling blocks and funding challenges. But we made it happen. And that was our overarching goal: to protect our children in our neighborhoods."

Rohrer noted that a recent study by the International Association of Chiefs of Police cited the partnership, dubbed the Protecting Children Against Sex Offenders program, as an example of how police departments can work with citizens to manage sex offenders in the community.

Beatty lauded the Fairfax Board of Supervisors for helping to fund the program, as well as Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) and Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) and local businesses. "It took courage and vision for the Board [of Supervisors] to support this program," which it first did by approving the partnership in 2002.

"All of us need to commend Diane for her tenacity," said Supervisor Joan M. DuBois (R-Dranesville). "She just kept asking and asking and requesting. You talk about people taking personal tragedy and having something come out of it, Diane's a perfect example."

Beatty, 44, said she was molested by her father as a child and in 1999 was stunned to learn that he'd been arrested for trying to seduce a 13-year-old girl during an Internet chat. When she found that Fairfax had only one detective to investigate Internet sex crimes, she launched her crusade to enhance the police department's capabilities.

Beatty had hoped to add 16 detectives, but Rohrer said police eventually determined that would be too many. The detail now has four detectives actively tracking the nearly 400 registered sex offenders in the county. Two other detectives concentrate their work online, both to investigate predators and to examine their computers once they are arrested.

The six detectives make frequent presentations to schools and civic groups, children and adults, to make them aware of sexual predators and how to deal with them. "Children walk out empowered," Beatty said. "It gives them the confidence and tools to walk away" from dangerous situations.

Maria Dewing, director of the George Washington RECenter in the Mount Vernon area, has also helped police with predators. Dewing said the county's recreation centers are open to anyone, and she figured they were ripe targets for sexual predators. So she helped police develop a mandatory training program for county rec center employees, called Keen Eye on Kids, and soon a man was caught videotaping kids in a locker room. "We later found out he'd visited eight rec centers," Dewing said.

But, Chief Rohrer said, "the most effective thing we've done is the sexual offender sweeps." In those, a detective and a supervisor personally visit every offender in the county. They have made 257 such visits this year. "We think the word is getting out," because the percentage of offenders who are following the rules has changed so markedly, the chief said.

Beatty said she realizes that ChildSafeNet must continue to raise money for the program, and "it's going to be essential that our business partners continue to support us." And she wants it to spread beyond Fairfax. "It's critical that we take this pilot program to other counties," Beatty said.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company