Cape Coral City Council will consider the elimination of its sexual predator/offender notification program on Monday.
The program, which sends a letter to Cape residents three times a year to let them know if there are offenders in their neighborhoods is costly, redundant and inefficient officials say, adding its elimination can save taxpayers around $40,000 per year.
We understand the city's desire to save money but we are not sure officials have explored all of the options before looking to cut a program many parents and grandparents say they welcome.
For this reason, we suggest council postpone its decision Monday while some alternatives are examined.
Let us take the criticisms one by one:
The city currently mails the notifications citywide in sometimes duplicate mailings - one for every Florida Department of Law Enforcement designated offender or predator living within a certain neighborhood radius. Some homes may get two or three or even more letters, each in its own bulk-mailed envelop.
The city should explore consolidating these mailings and then including them in the water and sewer utility bills.
There would be a couple of advantages.
First, the city could, if it so chooses, provide more timely information - monthly instead of three times a year - as the postage portion of the costs would be mitigated. There's also an opportunity for more complete lists as the neighborhood mailing "zones" could be readdressed - fewer zones, more information.
Or the city could leave the timing of the mailings alone so as to not increase staff time but change the mailing methodology to utility billing inclusion.
The down side, of course, is that not all residential properties are on city utilities.
Interim Police Chief Jay Murphy has a recommendation that would fill this gap.
Chief Murphy will propose Monday a stand-alone replacement to the mailing program. He suggests the city eliminate the mailings and use its "Code Red" phone alert system to notify all homes in neighborhoods where a predator or offender lives. He suggests a once-a-year citywide notification, beginning in September. Residents also would receive followup calls as needed, telling them in a generic message that an offender lives within a quarter mile of their home and suggesting that they consult the FDLE website or call the Cape Police Department for more detailed information.
The Lee County Sheriff's Office uses a similar program.
We thank Chief Murphy for his viable suggestion - we do like it - but would like to see the city explore combining it with the more detailed utility mailings that could continue the "who" and the "where."
Both options should be explored before a decision is made.
We agree, the city mailing notices is a redundancy. The information is available on the FDLE website and the city provides the link on its home page.
Not all homes have internet access, however, and therein lies the rub. It is estimated that 33 percent of minority households and 55 percent of households over 65 do not have access. For these parents and grandparents, city notification is the only notification they get.
That's one reason Cape Coral City Council went with mailings in the first place.
At minimum, there needs to be some discussion to take these residents into account, noting that they also won't have the ability to easily visit websites for more information if called.
At 30-35 percent, the city's return rate on the notifications is unacceptable. We agree there is gross inefficiency here. The problem does not lie with the program, however, but the mailing list used. Updated mailing lists are readily available; Breeze Newspapers, for example, gets undated lists monthly from the post office. Why the city has used less timely lists - the only reason for such high return rates - is beyond us and is readily addressed.
Inclusion of the notices with utility mailings in the bulk of the city, for example, would mitigate most returns; using updated lists in unserved areas would mitigate the rest.
Again, we ask the city to better explore its options before eliminating the program.
Meanwhile, we also advise those who can to avail themselves to another option.
Visit the FDLE website at offender.fdle.state.fl.us/offender/homepage.do You can readily check for offenders and predators by neighborhood or address.
You also can sign up for e-mail alerts directly from the FDLE - the agency will let you know when offenders move into your neighborhood. It's a good service and it's free.
- Breeze editorial