By Evan Lips
WESTFORD - It's no secret that knowledge is king, and state Rep. James Arciero is looking to crown the public with that power in the form of an online sex-offender registry that lists all perpetrators.
- This is just another politician who is exploiting fear, children and ex-offenders for his own gain, in our opinion. If he was truly wanting to "empower" the people, why doesn't he just push to put all ex-felons on an online shaming hit-list for all to see?
Currently, only information on Level 3 sex offenders is available to the public.
"I want citizens to be able to empower themselves," Arciero said Saturday.
It's not the first time the Westford Democrat has introduced a bill aimed at loosening the information laws related to low-level and mid-level sex offenders. Last spring, he found 36 co-sponsors willing to sign on to a bill that would have made information on Level 2 offenders available online.
That piece of legislation left the House Judiciary Committee in a favorable light. Now Arciero wants to give it more punch.
"I was always told that Level 1 offenders were not dangerous, but now my eyes are opened," he said, citing a recent Fox 25 special report showing that about 1,737 out of 2,693 Level 1 sex offenders in Massachusetts have committed crimes against children.
- So was that one time? And how old were they when the crime occurred? They don't tell you that for a reason. Many were probably children themselves, and they also don't tell you if it was a one time deal or if they went on to commit more related crimes.
Arciero said if the state adopts his proposal, it could also be in line to receive more than $600,000 annually in federal funding. States that elect to post all offender information online, in step with the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, are eligible for grant money.
Arciero said the initial event that drove him to criticize current offender-information laws occurred in 2009. That was the year a 16-year-old girl living in his hometown of Westford was sexually assaulted by a man who had grown up in town, moved to Florida, then later moved back to Westford. His record in Florida was readily available for viewing, but not in Massachusetts.
"We were outraged," he recalled. "When neighbors Googled him, they found a boatload of information."
- So why don't they say what the crime was and if the person in question is a Tier 1, 2 or 3? That "boatload" of information could be for anything not related to the crime in question, but hey, that's politics!
In Massachusetts, information about Level 1 sex offenders is only available to law-enforcement agencies. For information on Level 2 offenders, residents can file an in-person information request via their local police department.
That's not enough for Arciero, who has found a staunch supporter in Chelmsford resident Laurie Myers.
Myers, a former rape-crisis counselor, founded the victims-advocate group Community VOICES (Facebook) in 2004.
"We need to give people every tool possible," Myers said Saturday. "We just want to make this information available to people who want it."
Arciero also has the backing of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association and Gov. Deval Patrick, who filed his own piece of legislation last year demanding to bring the state into compliance with the Adam Walsh Act.
Chelmsford Police Chief James Murphy has said he supports giving the public access to all sex-offender information.
- So what about access to all ex-felon information?
Arciero also has support from the other side of the political aisle. Locally, Republican state Rep. Marc Lombardo of Billerica said Sunday there's no reason the information should not be public.
"It makes sense to ensure residents know who lives in their neighborhoods," he said. "If we can help kids in this state by putting this information online, I think it's the right thing to do."
- Like we said above, if you want to let residence know who lives in their neighborhoods, then why not put all criminal records online?
On Beacon Hill, the calls for posting sex-offender information grew louder after the December arrest of [name withheld], the Wakefield man charged with 100 counts of child sex abuse at the unlicensed day-care business operated by his wife. In 1989, [name withheld] was convicted of three counts of indecent assault and battery on a child under the age of 14, netting him Level 1 sex-offender status.
In Fitchburg, Democratic state Rep. Stephen DiNatale said Sunday he supports Arciero's proposal but added that sex-offender information must be constantly updated.
Molotov cocktail into the wrong window," he said, adding that vigilantism is his only concern. "The information must be updated on a regular basis and maintained properly."
- So what if a vigilante throws a Molotov cocktail into the correct house? Vigilantism is a major problem across the country, and is exactly why this information should be taken offline and used by police only.
As a former training and community-services director for the Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry Board, DiNatale said that regardless of what happens with Arciero's bill, he's glad it has helped spur some dialogue on the issue.
He said he's certain that if Arciero's bill is signed into law, it will "definitely be appealed by some individual over the fact that the information is being actively disseminated."
Yet, Arciero pointed out that he's calling for the information to be available for those looking for it, not necessarily posted in public places, like the lobbies of police departments.
"It's a judgment call by the registry board if they are likely to re-offend," Arciero said. "I think citizens need to have information to make their own judgment calls."
- Then post all criminal information online! That or murderers, gang members, drug dealers / users, thieves, DUI offenders, corrupt politicians, etc, etc.