So basically, the registry is a worthless piece of junk! I once thought it was nothing more than a phone book with photos, but, even the phone book is more accurate than the registry!
By Alex Campbell
Many discrepancies need to be fixed, officials agree
The state's online sex offender registry shows a convicted rapist living at an address in the 1300 block of Burdsal Parkway.
Alarming, considering that the chain-link fence at that address bears this sign: "ALL MY CHILDREN DAYCARE / Now Enrolling."
That's a problem. But not the one you might think.
The sex offender shown at the address doesn't live there anymore -- and hasn't since at least six months ago, maybe longer. Maybe not at all. And certainly not since the day-care business opened a little more than a month ago.
But there he is, on Marion County's portion of the state's official registry -- just one example of many problems The Indianapolis Star has uncovered during an examination of the registry.
Here are some others:
One offender shown living in the 500 block of East 31st Street has been residing in Colorado since at least July 2009. It's not hard to find him -- he's in jail.
A rapist is shown living at 327 N. Forest Ave. But the city confirms that address no longer exists. All that's there is a vacant lot.
More than 20 sex offenders are displayed on the registry's map on Indiana Avenue by the Canal Walk Downtown. They don't live there. But they, too, aren't especially hard to track down. Each of them is actually in prison.
People who run places in Indianapolis that house a lot of sex offenders say the registry often lists many more offenders than actually live there. One homeless shelter, for example, keeps a maximum of 13 beds available for sex offenders. The registry regularly lists 20 or more as living there.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, as well as a major children's advocacy group, say such inaccuracies undercut a core purpose of such registries: to protect the public by providing people a way to check whether there are sex offenders near where they live, where they work or where their children go to school.
State Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, said an out-of-date registry is about as useful a crime-prevention tool as a weapon that won't shoot straight.
- Exactly, and the registry has been this way since it's inception!
"You wouldn't rely on a gun that wasn't accurate, would you?"
State Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, called The Star’s discovery of discrepancies “upsetting.”
“That is something we should change,” he said.
Carolyn Atwell-Davis, director of legislative affairs at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, also was troubled.
“The value of the public registry as a child protection tool is that the information is accurate,” she said, adding, “That information, it sounds to me, is inaccurate.”
- And that means all the information you've been reporting over the years, is also inaccurate. You have people on a states registry, when they no longer live in that state but have moved to another state, you have data entry errors by the police, you also have duplicate entries due to aliases, misspelled names, etc. Yeah, there are errors and the registry is bloated!
Lt. Robert Hanna of the Marion County Sheriff’s Department, which administers the county’s published list of sex offenders, agrees that a number of these discrepancies need to be fixed.
“I wish we did have accurate addresses,” he said of some of the mapping issues. He told The Star he planned to look into a number of the problems raised.
The head of the statewide group that helps maintain the registry, Indiana Sheriffs’ Association Executive Director Steve Luce, agreed that mapping issues were worth looking into. “We don’t want to create a false perception out there,” he said.
- The registry, since it's inception, is nothing but a false sense of security, always will be!
Still, a question lingers. Why has the registry — created by the legislature in the mid-’90s amid a national push for such tools — fallen into such disrepair?
There are multiple answers. For one, there is no statewide entity in charge of overseeing accuracy. The Indiana Sheriffs’ Association provides general guidelines, but the daily task of entering and updating information falls to the 92 counties.
- It doesn't matter if you have one person or hundreds of people updating the registry, there will always be errors.
From one county to the next, policies — and the resources devoted to the cause — can vary greatly. Each county also must deal with a circumstance unique to Indiana that, if not handled properly, can almost ensure inaccuracy.
A state Supreme Court ruling nearly three years ago created a group of offenders known as “Wallace offenders.”
[name withheld] was convicted of his crime in 1989, before the registry existed. In a unanimous decision, the court found that putting him on the registry was retroactive punishment, and unconstitutional. That created an opening for hundreds of others in similar situations.
But in Marion County, where perhaps 20 percent of the offenders on the registry today are “Wallace offenders,” this is the reality: The offenders no longer have to update their information when they move — and don’t — but they often do not officially petition the court to be removed. So, their names are still left on the registry.
The “address” field next to their names is blank. But they show up on the map at the last place they registered, giving the impression that that’s the current address.
- If the address is blank, then how are they providing a map?
The result is that many searches for “Offenders in your area” — the way most people would search — yield inaccuracies. A Star spot check of about 480 of these offenders in Indianapolis confirmed at least 45 cases in which offenders no longer lived where the registry showed them to be.
That’s the case in the 1300 block of Burdsal Parkway, where Tlyasha Williams started All My Children Daycare. It became fully operational last month.
Before starting All My Children, Williams rented out the property. She thinks the offender shown there, [name withheld], is the son of the last woman to whom she rented.
That woman died in July, and her kids moved everything out by September. [name withheld] stayed on the registry map.
When told of this, Williams had one question: How can she get this fixed?
“Somebody should follow that,” Williams said, “and get that corrected.”
Rhonda Bender had a similar request for the offender shown living at her home in the 500 block of East 31st Street.
She bought the home in December. The back door had been boarded up, but she and her son gutted and redid the place.
[name withheld] is shown at her address. He’s a Wallace offender, too, convicted in 1993 of sexual battery, according to the registry.
But he’s no tenant of Bender’s. He’s not even in Indiana.
“He’s in jail,” said his parole officer in Denver, Steve Ruiz. “He’s been in jail for a while.” Since at least July 2009, though he was out on parole until he violated it.
But that doesn’t stop him from showing up on the map.
“Yeah,” Bender said. “Fix that.”
Lt. Hanna said the Marion County Sheriff’s Department receives calls along these lines from homeowners from time to time. When it does, it takes the offender off the map.
“We don’t want somebody that would have a hostile attitude towards these kinds of people thinking that there was a sex offender living there and harassing them,” Hanna said.
- Yeah, so they admit, vigilantism is a problem? And are they basically saying, in a hidden way, that if the offender did live there, then vigilantism would be fine?
But in some cases, there may not be a new homeowner at the listed address. Or a home there at all. That’s the case at “327 N. Forest Ave.”
A grassy lot separates 323 and 331 N. Forest Ave. The lot is sunken in, as if it once held a building. But no longer.
“There hasn’t been a house there in at least three years,” neighbor Ryan Snelbaker said.
City records confirm that 327 N. Forest Ave. no longer exists. The registry’s map, however, shows it as home to convicted rapist [name withheld].
[name withheld] isn’t homeless, and he isn’t on the run. He’s actually at Putnamville Correctional Facility, until at least March 2013.
Like [name withheld] and [name withheld], [name withheld] qualifies as a Wallace offender — he committed his crime before it was a registerable offense.
Asked about Wallace offenders staying on the map, Hanna said he was going to ask the registry’s information technology people to see whether they can fix it.
Hanna said he thought all addresses and map locations of Wallace offenders were removed when the county and state switched over to new registry management software nearly two years ago.
The choice to keep the names of Wallace offenders on the public registry, though, is a conscious decision. “If they want their name and face removed from the registry,” Hanna said, “they can go to court and obtain the necessary order to get that done.”
- Yeah, nothing like exploiting ex-offenders and forcing them to pay more money to get off the list, and bloating the registry! Why not just remove them? It's as easy as searching their name, and deleting the record!
Hanna has support on that front from state officials, who often go a step further to try to keep these offenders’ names public. The attorney general has in a number of cases stepped in to request that an offender be kept on the registry during, or sometimes even after, a hearing to remove that offender’s listing.
- What? So it's all about punishment then! If a person went to court and got a court order to be removed, then why is the AG pushing to keep someone on the list? Because if he pushes for this, then it makes himself "look tough" on crime to the sheeple who follow him, and it helps his own career, that is why!
Criminal convictions are public information anyway, said the attorney general’s spokesman, Bryan Corbin, and it’s a matter of public safety.
- So are you saying you can get on the Internet and enter any persons name and pull up their entire criminal history? And if so, is it on a publicly known list? Probably not, most people know about the sex offender registry due to the hysteria behind it, which doesn't exist for the other criminals, if their crimes are actually available online.
“The Attorney General’s Office takes these legal actions,” Corbin said in an emailed statement, “to ensure that Hoosier families can have the necessary information in order to protect themselves from convicted offenders who might be living in their communities.”
- So when you say "convicted offenders" are you referring to all felons, or just ex-sex offenders?
But not every county thinks that’s worth the potential accuracy problems. Allen County pre-emptively removes all of its Wallace offenders from its portion of the state registry.
“We’re certainly not going to publish an address that’s wrong,” said Detective Cpl. Mike Smothermon of the Allen County Sheriff’s Department, “or an offense that doesn’t require registration.”
Smothermon stressed that he knew nothing about Marion County’s policy and knew only about his own. But Allen County doesn’t keep Wallace offenders on the registry in part because it would be “doing the general public a very big disservice by publishing an address that you’re not verifying.”
Vanderburgh County operates in the opposite direction. The offender registration coordinator at the sheriff’s office there, Mike Robinson, said he doesn’t have the resources to go through everyone registered there and figure out who qualifies as a Wallace offender — much less remove their names or addresses.
“It would be a total monopolization of my time,” he said.
- So if it's your job to maintain the registry, then wouldn't this be a part of your job?
Ultimately, the debate comes down to whether a county believes that it’s better for the public to keep Wallace offenders’ names on the list — meaning, in Marion County at least, that many of the addresses will be wrong — or to provide the public with an accurate and fully updated registry.
- So tell me, if the court found the law was unconstitutional to keep people convicted before the law was enacted on the list, how are these corrupt jerks still able to bypass that ruling and keep the people on the list? Sounds like a power struggle to me!
But even removing Wallace offenders from the list wouldn’t solve all of the inaccuracy issues The Star uncovered.
- Of course it wouldn't, that is common sense. There will always be human error, multiple entries due to multiple aliases, and many other situations.
Search for offenders near 620 Marion Ave., for example, and you’ll find 18 at six locations within a half-mile radius. Six of those offenders are listed in one spot.
Scroll down, though, and you’ll find that those six call the Marion County Jail their home. Yet none of the three locations where jail inmates are kept — the County Jail at 40 S. Alabama St., Jail II at 730 E. Washington St. and Liberty Hall at 675 E. Washington St. — is near 620 Marion Ave.
Similarly, a search for offenders living near 500 Indiana Ave., near the Canal, shows 51 offenders listed in seven locations within a half-mile of that address. But 22 of those offenders have an address of “INDIANA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION” or something similar — they’re in prison.
It appears that the registry’s management software, known as Offender Watch, “sees” Marion County Jail and Indiana Department of Correction and places offenders on Marion and Indiana avenues.
“This is an issue I’m definitely going to bring up with Offender Watch,” Lt. Hanna said.
- Offender Watch is selling a product, and they've had issues in the past.
The president of the company that runs Offender Watch, Mike Cormaci, told The Star it could make any number of tweaks to the software if asked to do so.
- How about fixing the presentation you ship with the product to have more accurate statistics instead of fear mongering lies? You recently changed that a little, which is better, but it's still not exactly correct either.
Cormaci said mapping issues occasionally come up, and when one of the 5,000 agencies his company serves calls one to its attention, the company’s technical staffers fix it.
The Star also found discrepancies at a number of places in the city that often house multiple sex offenders at once.
The registry consistently has many more offenders listed at the King’s Inn motel than actually live there, said property manager Sean James Haley. The motel, which The Star profiled in February, is home to dozens of offenders who are part of a special state program that helps find them housing.
Haley said the motel typically hosts around 30 offenders at a time. The registry, though, generally lists double that number. At one time, Haley said, it listed more than a hundred.
- A personal friend of mine is an ex-programmer, and I asked him about this and he is not sure why you have so much issues with the software. If ten people are living at an address, then why don't you list ten people, not twenty? Sounds like some incompetent programmers to him.
In February, The Star sent Haley a list of the 62 offenders who, at that time, were listed as living there. Haley checked his records and sent back a list of 35 who “are no longer staying at our hotel and haven’t for a while.”
Around that same time, The Star sent a similar list to Matt Roller, director of emergency shelter services at Wheeler Mission Ministries’ homeless shelter for men. The shelter keeps 13 beds available for sex offenders.
The registry listed 23 people as living at Wheeler. When sent that list, Roller found that only 11 of those 23 were actually staying at the shelter. Two had moved out within the past week, but two others had never even been in his database.
- So think about it, can you see how this whole registry is a bloated mess? It's showing more people on the list than actually are, it's a fear-mongering tool to scare the public into purchasing their software, or buying into their mass hysteria over sex crimes. Yes sexual abuse happens all the time, but why inflate it? Money and to help ones own career, that is why!
In each of these cases, some of the offenders listed there are Wallace offenders. But there aren’t enough of them to account for all of the discrepancies.
Hanna said the county’s compliance unit pursues non-Wallace offenders — and obtains accurate information — aggressively. There could, however, be some lag time between when an offender’s information is updated with law enforcement and when the new information appears on the Internet, he said.
- That brings up another problem. If this is all in a database, and the offender goes to the local police department to re-register, if the officer then enters that data into the database, why is there any lag? Why isn't it updated immediately when they submit the new information to the database? My ex-programmer friend spent over 11 years working on database programming and has NEVER encountered this type of "issue!"
The Star found dozens of other discrepancies under the “Offenses” section of offenders’ profiles. Registry listings for when an offender was released from prison for his sex crime often don’t match DOC records. One offender’s listed date of release on the registry differs from that on his DOC rap sheet by 15 years, suggesting he served close to 17 years for his child molesting conviction, instead of less than two.
Part of the problem there, Hanna said, may be a glitch associated with the way information was transferred when Indiana moved to Offender Watch.
- I don't buy it! Sounds like a cop out to me!
The registry also omits certain information for a number of offenders. For many, it does not list convictions for failure to register as a sex offender. For a few, it does not mention some or any of the offender’s sex crimes.
This summer, lawmakers plan to hold a study session on the registry, in part because of a desire to provide more consistency from county to county.
That was the aim of House Bill 1204 this past legislative session. It passed the House on a 93-0 vote.
The bill, however, was not aimed at cleaning up the registry or increasing accuracy.
“The intent of the law,” said Rep. Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte, “was to stop counties from removing individuals from the registry.”
An offender who stops having to update his address, the bill said, would not be entitled to have any of his information removed from the registry.
Dermody said he worried that if Indiana took offenders off it, the state would become a “welcoming ground” for similar offenders from other states.
The bill’s co-author, DeLaney, echoed that statement, saying he wanted to err on the side of keeping too many offenders on there.
- Yeah, again, nothing like leaving more on the registry to scare the sheeple.
Some, however, argue that while such a tough-on-offenders stance is popular, ultimately it could render the registry irrelevant.
- The registry, IMO, is already to this point.
And that’s in large part why the bill failed in the Senate’s Corrections, Criminal and Civil Matters Committee.
Steele, the committee’s chairman, remembers helping to pass the law that established that “Sexually Violent Predators” — offenders deemed to be a high risk for re-offending — had to register for life.
What’s the point of that distinction, he asked, if everyone’s going to stay on there anyway?
But Steele also was concerned that the bill would only exacerbate the problems uncovered by The Star’s examination.
At some point in the future, Steele worried, the registry would be clogged with so many offenders, with so much out-of-date information, that users would become overwhelmed and “quit using it.”
“And then,” Steele said, “we’ve defeated our purpose.”