My Central New York neighborhood was never the safest place in the region. Ever since middle school, I can remember principals mailing out notices of suspicious looking individuals they had been given police warning about, or certain vehicles or license plates to look out for. “The white van” was very much ingrained in all of our teenage heads as something to be watchful for and feared, and we were made to believe that any stranger who spoke to you was probably a kidnapper — don’t make eye contact and walk away quickly to the nearest highly populated area. When FamilyWatchdog.com reared its head, parents and children alike had a field day with it.
FamilyWatchdog is a free service dedicated to alerting people of sex offenders living in their area. Visitors of the site plug in their address and are then redirected to an interactive map of where offenders live and work in their area. The map legend has several different classifications, including: offense against children home and other, rape home and other, sexual battery home and other and other offense home and other. Each indicated location is clickable, and leads to a page with the offender’s full name, mug shot, physical description, convictions list, available aliases and and other information, like past places of residence.
Our newest twisted obsession became looking up our own addresses and seeing who had the most sex offenders living near them. Looking back on this website today with a newfound sense of having to fact check my information, I’ve noticed that FamilyWatchdog is not a government owned website, even though it titles itself as a “National Sex Offender Registry,” giving the illusion that it is to online readers who may not know any better. In fact, the site indicates that its copyright is in the name of FWD Holdings Incorporated, a corporation I could barely verify. The only place I could find any mention of such a company was through Alacra Store, a website specializing in producing purchasable reports for businesses and companies. According to them, FWD Holdings Inc.’s primary focus is real estate agents and managers, not criminal justice. The offender information cards also don’t provide key information, like when their conviction occurred, but prompt readers to buy an offender’s background history through a different website, called PeopleSmart.
I also could not seem to figure out how FamilyWatchdog updates its information. There was nothing about automatically importing it from a government department’s official index, how often the site is manually updated, etc. And if you believe me to be sensationalizing a website that only wants to help the public, even its own Terms of Service says, “Family Watchdog makes no representation, implied or expressed, that all information placed on this web site is accurate.”
My only piece of advice is to check your sources before trusting them. If you don’t get the full story on a person or situation, it can make things seem more drastic than they actually are.