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Oklahomans Can Soon Keep Track Of Criminals

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma County, the most populous of the state's 77 counties, is now part of a criminal tracking system that officials say will be especially beneficial to victims of violent crime.

The announcement was made Tuesday at a news conference at the Oklahoma County Jail by Attorney General Drew Edmondson, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater and Sheriff John Whetsel.

Edmondson's office, using a $1.2 million federal grant, has been working for a year to connect counties with the Victim Information and Notification Everyday program, known as VINE.

Oklahoma County is the 49th in the state to join the system, which should be employed statewide by next May, Edmondson said.

``VINE will give citizens an effective tool to keep them well informed about violent career criminals who are inclined to target victims multiple times,'' Whetsel said.

Authority for the system was contained in the Caitlin Wooten Act, named for a 16-year-old Ada High School student who was killed in 2005 by a man three weeks after he bailed out of jail while facing charges of kidnaping Caitlin's mother.

Although the focus is on violent criminals, officials said the system keeps track of people who go through the state's criminal justice system for any reason.

Edmondson said someone who is the victim of embezzlement can learn through the system when an offender gets out of jail or prison ``so you can garnishee his check.''

Tulsa County was already a part of VINE before the state got the grant from the Department of Justice to expand the program.

With Oklahoma County on board, 70 to 80 percent of the state's population is now covered, the attorney general said.

The program includes placing computer terminals in every county jail and at the Department of Corrections to create a network that makes information on offenders available to victims, law enforcement officials and the public 24 hours a day.

Crime victims will be able to access the VINE Web site and register to be notified of changes in inmates' status.

Notifications are made by either telephone or by e-mail and will occur when an inmate is transferred, released, paroled or dies. Citizens also can call the system for updated information.

Edmondson and Prater said those victimized by violent offenders will be able to take different types of precautions if offenders are released into the community. Perhaps they will want to notify their employers or fellow workers or take their children to a safe place, they said.

Oklahomans also can track the movement of criminals in other states.
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