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Criminals in My Neighborhood

Nobody wants to wind up on Investigation Discovery’s television show “Fear Thy Neighbor,” which features people who inadvertently find themselves living near “a psycho – or even a killer.”

The excitement of moving into a new neighborhood, or having a new neighbor move into yours, can sometimes be diminished by those nagging doubts we can’t quite shake.

We’ve all wondered whether our concerns about a new neighbor’s behavior were justified or just a touch of paranoia:

Are they watching my house all the time? Why do my tools keep vanishing? Are they paying inappropriate attention to my young child? Why do so many people make quick visits to their house in the middle of the night?

It is certainly good to be vigilant and to alert the authorities if you observe actual suspicious behavior.

But what other steps can you take to relieve your mind – or to let you know that you were right to be worried?

Let’s examine some questions you might have about those new neighbors– or that new neighborhood – and look at some options that might work for you.

Am I Living Next Door To a Sex Offender?

One of the most effective ways to get an answer to this question actually grew out of a horrifying case that occurred more than a decade ago.

In the fall of 2003, Dru Katrina Sjodin, 22, was a student at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. She worked two jobs and carried a full class load; she was also active in Gamma Phi Beta Sorority, working with underprivileged teens through her sorority. Sjodin was looking forward to a trip to Australia in the spring of 2004.

But on Nov. 22, 2003, she left her job at Columbia Mall in Grand Forks, did a bit of shopping at the mall and headed outside to her car.

Then, she disappeared.

On Dec. 1, police arrested a 50-year-old suspect, Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., in connected with Sjodin’s disappearance. Rodriguez had been released in prison in May after serving 23 years for stabbing and attempting to kidnap a woman. He had also pleaded guilty previously to raping another woman, and authorities could put him in the area of Columbia Mall on the day Sjodin vanished.

Rodriguez was a registered sex offender in Minnesota, but back then it was possible for a person to be tagged as a sex offender in one state, then move to another state and avoid detection.

Sjodin’s body was found the following April near Crookston, Minn., where Rodriguez lived. She had been beaten, stabbed and sexually assaulted.

In August of 2006, a federal court convicted Rodriguez of murder and that September he was sentenced to death. That same year, Congress passed and then-President George W. Bush signed into law “Dru’s Law,” which established the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website.”

This site, a joint project between the U.S. Department of Justice and state, territorial and tribal governments, provides information on the whereabouts of registered sex offenders regardless of state borders.

The website bills itself as “an unprecedented public safety resource that provides the public with access to sex offender data nationwide.”

You can go to https://www.nsopw.gov/en and enter a first and last name to get information on sex offenders in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., U.S. territories and Indian Country.

The site also has a “search by location” option, where you can enter an address and search for registered sex offenders with a one-, two- or three-mile radius.

But be aware: You can find some rather unsettling information.

I found 47 registered sex offenders living within a one-mile radius of my house in Atlanta, including seven homeless individuals. It includes name, age and photo.

Are My Children At Risk?

To look for information on pedophiles in your area, another free site, Family Watchdog, allows you to enter an address. It then returns a map with color-coded icons – red for offenses against children, yellow for rapists, blue for sexual battery, green for other offenses.

You can click on an icon and pull up the offenders name, date of birth, sex, race, height and weight, hair and eye color, home address and a photo.

What About Crimes Committed Or Arrests In My Area?

You could try your local police precinct, although they might be reluctant or flatly unwilling to take the time away from crime-fighting to provide the information on an individual basis.

In many cases, neighborhood associations will have a working relationship with the local precinct, which provides information on crimes and arrests on a monthly basis. If you join such an association – or simply request the information – they are likely to provide it do you if they have it.

You can also try a free site such as MyLocalCrime.com, which allows you to input an address and see recent crimes committed in the local area. You can also sign up for alerts that notify when crimes are committed in the area.

Some local police departments will have crime data on their websites. Also, some newspapers or television stations now have interactive sites that allow you to search for crimes committed at or near a particular address.

Does My New Neighbor Have a Criminal Record?

You can, of course, turn to Checkthem to find out if that new neighbor has a criminal record– and to learn most of the other information we’ve covered here.

Checkthem, a provider of comprehensive background check services, can access nearly 31 billion public records to collect information on that neighbor’s police record, their criminal background record, their civil and lawsuit record – virtually any public information on the person.

You can also enter the address of the neighbor you’re losing sleep over and find out what crimes have occurred at that address.

The Checkthem team uses an enormously large but classified database —which is updated daily for accuracy – to help their customers find the information that will keep them off “Fear Thy Neighbor.”

And that’s what we all want, isn’t it?