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Neighbors next door

Architecture students map out registered sex offenders

Published: Thursday, January 26, 2006

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 22:07

01-26-NEWS-Sex-Offenders-GA.jpg

Gracie Arenas - The Battalion
www.bryantx.gov/departments/police/cop/disc.htm - Source

Sixteen registered sex offenders live within a two-mile radius of the College Station home of senior communications major Bree Wells.

"I'm very surprised because it's not something that is talked about, and here I sit in my safe little town house when I could be surrounded by possible danger," Wells said.

Two Texas A&M students created an online map to inform Brazos County residents about sex offenders in their area.

The program began when Miriam Olivares and Praveen Maghelal, graduate students in the College of Architecture, were assigned a project in Douglas Wunneburger's Geographic Information Systems (GIS) class.

"We wanted to do a real project and when we started working on this, we found there was a big need," Olivares said. "We wanted to do something for the community."

The map displays where registered sex offenders live in Brazos County, as well as their names, physical descriptions and Department of Public Safety (DPS) registration numbers. The DPS numbers link to a government Web site with the sex offenders' pictures and extensive information.

"I think it's the only one in the nation that you can zoom in and see your house, and it's updated often," Olivares said.

Olivares and Maghelal included locations of Bryan and College Station schools and parks on the map and used the visual representation to pinpoint sex offenders who live in areas that violate municipal Child Safety Zones.

Both the Bryan Police Department and the College Station Police Department utilize the online program.

"We have the link to help keep track of these guys," said Sgt. Jeff Capps of the College Station criminal investigation division.

Other areas have recognized the system's potential, Olivares said.

"We have received several inquiries from communities around the world, metropolitan police in London (and) Canada," Olivares said. "We are pleased that experts think this is something they can use, which is what you are looking for when you do research, something that will do something good."

Students can access the program at http://www.bryantx.gov/departments/police/cop/disc.htm.

The team placed first at the Texas A&M Pathway Student Research Symposium and presented its findings to the National Institute of Justice's Crime Mapping Research. The project was also featured on national television, said Wunneburger, a professor in the College of Architecture.

"In over 20 years of teaching GIS at A&M, eight in the College of Architecture, I'm pretty sure this is the first project from one of my classes to be so successful that it was featured on the CBS Evening News," he said.

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