Crimewatch: APD SOAR Unit

Crimewatch: APD SOAR Unit

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Austin police are taking a more proactive approach when it comes to tracking sex offenders.

There are about 1500 registered offenders in the city.

Officers with the Sex Offender Apprehension and Registration Unit make daily unannounced visits to sex offenders like Edward Kohler in East Austin. The 67-year-old was convicted of two counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child. Kohler is considered high risk and isn't allowed out of the house, except for counseling. He's retired so he doesn't work. If he leaves, his ankle monitor will go off.

"I don't break the rules anymore, I do what I'm told to do, and that's the only way you can do your parole," said Kohler.

This surprise visit is a compliance check, making sure sex offenders live where they say they do. Now, officers with the unit are doing even more.

"We're spending a lot more time getting to know the offenders out on the street in their neck of the woods

With these unannounced visits," Detective Mike Summers explains. "We're spending time looking for them, going to places where they may or may not be working. We have recently in the last year started doing minimum surveillance activities."

The S.O.A.R. Unit is now in a new office on the first floor of the police headquarters. Up front, an area will be walled off for sex offenders to come in and register.

Sgt. Liz Donegan says the unit is expected to expand.

"What we're trying to do is hold them accountable and that way we can catch them before they potentially re-offend again," Donegan said.

The complex that houses the most registered sex offenders in Austin sits off 52nd Street on the east side. Police say there are around 30 who live here plus other convicted felons.

Police say most sex offenders are smart, that's why they are so prolific. They say sex offenders not only groom their victims, but everyone around them. That includes officers.

"You just have to be really careful, these guys are not typical offenders."

"Some of these people have had excellent careers, excellent jobs, high IQ levels, education."

Police say one of topics they get the most calls about is where a sex offender is allowed to live. Senior Patrol Officer, Sam Tannous, says the one of the biggest misconceptions is that sex offenders can't live near schools.

"If they're off probation and off parole, there are no restrictions, yeah, they can live there. There's also a safety zone of how many feet they can live from a school, if they are not on probation or parole, they can live there."

Sex offenders must check in with police either quarterly or annually. That's in addition to the unexpected house calls.

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