A new law designed to help police keep closer tabs on criminals on probation and parole may have less teeth than advertised, exempting thousands of offenders from scrutiny.

When lawmakers passed the Reduction of Recidivism Act last month, it was touted as a get-tough measure that would allow police to search some 31,000 criminals on probation and parole without a warrant. The problem, some officials said, is it doesn't do that.

The law requires criminals to sign forms consenting to searches before they are released to community supervision. It does not, however, say anything about the thousands of folks already on probation April 28, when the measure was enacted.

Probation officials can ask those offenders to sign the waiver, but it does not appear they are under any legal obligation to do so. Without that written consent, police are not authorized to search those people unless they have a warrant, the state Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services stressed in a May 4 advisory to law enforcement.

Though the law went into effect the day it was passed, the probation department is still trying to work out the details of how it will be applied on the street. Among other things, the agency is working to create a database police can check from the road, at all hours, to verify that a criminal is on community supervision and has consented to be searched, said Pete O'Boyle, the department's director of public information.

The agency has set a target date of July 1 for the system to be in place so police can begin conducting the warrantless searches, O'Boyle said.

The probation department hasn't taken an official position on whether the new law authorizes warrantless searches of offenders already on community supervision when the law took effect. The law appears to contain language that would retroactively make current parolees subject to the searches but not probationers, who make up the overwhelming majority of criminals on supervised released.

Read more in tomorrow's Post and Courier.