Sgt. Ryan Andresen conducts a polygraph examination. Photos courtesy of the SOMU.
The New Jersey State Parole Board's Sex Offender Management Unit (SOMU) supervises about 6,000 sex offenders with the twin mission of preventing repeat offenses and helping offenders re-enter society after prison. The unit's sworn officers accomplish their mission with active supervision, the use of GPS ankle bracelets, counseling programs and subsequent arrests for new violations.
The SOMU is made up of 131 officers divided into two sections – the SOMU and the Electric Monitoring Program (EMP). The SOMU is made up of 88 officers and the Electronic Monitoring Program accounts for another 43 officers.
Officers assigned to the north and south SOMU focus on registered sex offenders with violations that include endangering the welfare of children, sexual assault, and failure to register. Paroled offenders with GPS and Radio Frequency (RF) ankle bracelets fall under the purview of the electronic monitoring program.
"The GPS bracelet provides real-time locations for offenders as well as a historical trail," says the unit's Capt. Steven Tallard.
Senior Parole Officer Joseph Leake secures a GPS ankle bracelet on the subject.
Offenders come under supervision for the first time directly from sentencing, after release from state prison, or transferring from another state.
Internal control of sex offenders consists of counseling, which incorporates involvement from the parole officer and lie-detection tester. Polygraphs help determine the offender's compliance with supervision conditions. Drug tests reveal the validity of their claims of being under the influence while committing the offense.
In addition to the usual flurry of paperwork inherent in investigative police work, officers assigned to this unit must juggle a variety of other job tasks including visiting offenders in their homes, lengthy searches, interrogations, and arrests. They may meet with the offender's employers; coordinate with police departments; visit jails to interview an offender; and back up fellow officers conducting searches.
Training topics include addressing denial through the polygraph, understanding deviant sexual arousal, cognitive restructuring, and relapse prevention. Other training covers interview and interrogation, developing conditions of supervision, understanding an offender's computer use of social networking or child pornography, and the use of the polygraph.
"Much of the training focuses on counseling as an effective arrangement with the sex offender," Tallard says.
Unit supervisors have been known to recruit members from the police academy, while other officers submit a request to join. A successful officer in the unit must have the ability to work autonomously, must be confident, and have good written and verbal skills. He or she must be observant, analytical, and professional during difficult circumstances.
"The most difficult part of the job is dealing with the damage that the sex offender has done to another human being and the emotional toll it takes on the officer," Tallard says.
An officer in the unit must put aside anything they feel emotionally to best supervise the offender and perform their jobs effectively.
"The goal of supervision is to prevent recidivist behavior and when the officer injects personal feelings into supervision the offender recognizes this judgmental attitude and 'shuts down,'" adds Tallard.
Officer Leake examines the GPS tracking trails of a sex offender. The green dots represent the subject's whereabouts. Placing the cursor over a box brings up the details box as shown. The detail box provides date and time, longitude and latitude, direction traveling, and speed traveling.
The officer must maintain communication with an offender to supervise them and ensure information flows freely. The assignment's rewards include knowing a sex offence has been prevented. When an offender does violate parole, the officer must respond to the violation. In New Jersey, a sex offender is under parole supervision for life as part of sentencing for their offense.
Violations may bring curfews, counseling or treatment, electronic monitoring, placement in a residential treatment facility, and imposing more restrictive conditions of supervision, Tallard says.
Offenders can apply to the sentencing court for removal of lifetime supervision, if they can show the court that they haven't committed a crime in 15 years and don't pose a threat to others. This results in far fewer offenders being removed from supervision than added each month—the unit received 710 new offenders to supervise in just the last year.
"Theoretically, an officer can start their career with a certain caseload, stay in that position for the entirety of their career, and end their career with most of the same people on their caseload," Tallard says. "It's a unique and complex relationship."
Editor's note: This special unit profile is the latest in a series of Web-exclusive career profiles on PoliceMag.com. Read more profiles here.