BALLSTON SPA, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Over 80% of Americans live within one mile of a registered sex offender, and online harassment and abuse are threatening our nation’s youth. To combat this, the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office announced a new partnership Tuesday that will help it keep families safer from sex offenders in their virtual neighborhood, as well as their physical one.

“It’s a great tool for the community. The main tenant of law enforcement is to keep people safe. This is just a tool in the box for people to stay safe,” says Captain Daniel Morley of the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office.

The Office has partnered with Offenderwatch, the nation’s leading sex offender registry partner, to offer a new family safety mobile app to keep families and children safe. The app is free for download on Android and iPhone smartphones. After downloading the app, families will be able to see registered sex offenders located near them or family members. They will also be alerted when an offender moves into their neighborhood.

Captain Morley says besides keeping people aware of sexual offenders in their neighborhood, the goal is also to help prevent any counters with those offenders, especially when it comes to children. “It’s definitely one of the goals of the app is to prevent something like that from happening. Prevention and education are two of the biggest things you can do. I think the biggest thing outside of that is if you see something, say something. And be aware of your surroundings and take precautions.”

Sheriff Michael H. Zurlo said the safety of his community is one of the biggest concerns of police officers. He hopes the Sheriff’s Office’s partnership with Offenderwatch provides his citizens with an extra tool to help them keep their families safe.

According to the Crimes Against Children Research Center, one in five teens has received an unwanted sexual solicitation online. In 2021, most of the more than 29 million tips reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children dealt with child sex trafficking or sexual molestation.

Families will have the option to upgrade the OffenderWatch app to a paid version, which monitors a child’s texts, emails, location, and phone calls. The app sends an immediate alert to parents if a registered sex offender tries to contact the child, or if the child lingers near the address of a sex offender.

How the OffenderWatch App works

  • Parents who sign up for the app download it on their phone and their child’s Android or iPhone device.
  • In the free version of the app, parents can see their child’s location and the location of registered sex offenders.
  • Parents will receive a notification if a registered sex offender moves into their neighborhood.
  • For the paid version, the app also monitors the child’s texts, emails, location and phone calls in the background, without storing the child’s messages or interfering with them.
  • If a registered sex offender contacts the child, or if the child lingers near the home of an offender, the parent or guardian receives an instant notification.
  • From there, parents can ask their children about their smartphone activity or contact law enforcement for an investigation.

Parents and guardians can download the app on either the App Store or Google Play. Online safety has been a challenge for law enforcement and technology companies for years- and Sheriff Zurlo hopes the OffenderWatch App can help bridge the gap in Saratoga County.