By Jennifer Grimes
Triplicate staff writer
The heart of Crescent City and its cheap motels has become a haven for recently paroled felons, including sex offenders just out of prison.
Nearly every month a fresh batch of freed men and women from the states prison system are reintroduced into this community where they once lived and committed their crimes.
Were maintaining about 100 to 110 cases up there, said Ray Hilburn, unit director for the state parole district office in Eureka referring to the number of parolees in Del Norte County as a whole.
Although police say they monitor parolees closely, the fact that felons are returned to places like the City Center Motel, El Patio and others, troubles some residents.
Are we safe? I mean, I have two children and we only live a couple of blocks away from one of these motels, said a resident on Crescent Citys J Street, who preferred to remain anonymous.
Its Crescent City Police Detective Roger Chindgrens duty to keep track of some parolees as well as all registered sex offenders being housed in the city limits.
The state lodges them by cost and they go as cheap as possible, said Chindgren.
Chindgren said hes not sure exactly how many parolees there are currently out in the city, but said there are 29 registered sex offenders within the city area alone.
But the guys (parolees) understand they have very little latitude with me, Chindgren said.
And keeping parolees at known addresses shortly after their release helps law enforcement keep tabs on them. The state pays to house the parolees for 30 days.
Its illegal for parolees to be homeless. The state pays, partly to keep track of them. But once the 30 days are up, theyre on their own, said Detective Alissa Mehlhoff of the Del Norte County Sheriffs Department.
City Center Motel owner Bhupendra Joshi said hes been getting paid by the Eureka parole office for about a year.
We welcome anyone, any time. They call me first to see if we have rooms available and they tell me the name of the person they are sending, Joshi said. There are 15 rooms there and a cooking facility.
There are about four low-budget motels within the four-square-mile area of the city limits, but they are not the only places housing the recently released.
The resident who worried about safety in her downtown neighborhood wanted a list of the parolees names and descriptions made public, but Chindgren said the identities of most of the parolees are kept confidential. Its a policy both Mehlhoff and Chindgren said they dont necessarily agree with, but must follow.
Only the identities of persons convicted of the most serious sex-offender crimes are open to the public.
Those classified as serious or high-risk sexual offenders or sexual predators are readily revealed to anyone wanting to know. Otherwise, their names and identities are kept private.
At the moment, Mehlhoff said there are no high-risk sexual offender parolees in the area, but the number of offenders changes on an almost daily basis.
When serious or high-risk offenders are in the area, Mehlhoff and Chindgren make up flyers with photographs of the convicts and distribute them to local schools and others.
A map of the city on Chindgrens office wall is covered with red push-pins indicating where each sex offender is being housed.
The whole time theyre here they have to come to my office physically every 10 days. And at some time during each 10-day period, I make a visit to them at least once to make sure theyre following the conditions of their parole, he said. Frequent visits from Chindgren stop, however, when the parolee finds a more permanent residence.
A parole officer also visits the living quarters once a week and, with serious high-risk offenders, Chindgren makes sure a police officer on the night shift keeps an eye on the offender during his or her patrol.
By law, convicted sex offenders cannot reside within one-quarter mile of a school. They must also notify law enforcement whenever they move to a different residence and must re-register as a sex offender each year on their birthday and be stripped and photographed.
Not all parolees are tracked by local law enforcement as closely as sex offenders, however.
Monitoring sex offenders is new to city police. Until about a month ago, that was a job handled solely by Mehlhoff at the Del Norte County Sheriffs Department.
I worked over 200 cases last year by myself, she said.
Mehlhoff still handles all convicted sex-offender cases residing outside the city limits.
She said the shift of city-resident cases to the city police came on the heels of Del Norte Countys budget crisis when several Sheriffs Department staff positions were frozen and workloads were increased for the county detectives.
After several years in law enforcement and dealing with sex offenders, Mehlhoff said most sex-offender crimes could be avoided with common sense.
The molests that are happening are happening in the homes by friends and relatives and neighbors.
Parents need to be aware and make their kids aware of that. We tell kids not to talk to strangers and that child molesters are these terrible trolls that live under bridges. Parents dont realize to tell their kids to be careful of Grandpa and Uncle Bob, or the neighbor they see everyday on the sidewalk, Mehlhoff said.