Saturday, July 19, 2014

VT - Sex offender registry under fire again

Original Article


By Jennifer Reading

MONTPELIER - It's another black mark for the Vermont Sex Offender Registry.

"There are errors. And they should not have been there," said Doug Hoffer, D-Vt. Auditor.

Hoffer says the system needs work. A performance audit by his office found critical errors in 253 offender records. That's 11 percent of the total registry.

"The Legislature has said very clearly that they wanted information to be available to the general public, as is the case in other states," Hoffer said. "And we all have a right for the information to be accurate. Not only for the people in the community, but for the offenders."

The registry is a tool for law enforcement and the public to keep track of sexual predators living in the community. That's something Chelsea Merrill, 21, couldn't do for a while. Her abuser, _____, was convicted of lewd and lascivious conduct. He targeted her for five years while she was a child. Yet his photo wasn't on the public registry until recently. And she worried he'd find more victims.

"That he will offend again," she said. "That he will get close to another child and feel comfortable with them. And this will happen again."
- So are you saying that if his/her photo is online then they won't re-offend?  The problem is, most do not re-offend in the first place!

An audit conducted in 2010 found the system was rife with errors. Hoffer says four years later, the Legislature tasked his office with a follow-up examination.

His team uncovered:
  • 11 registration errors where offenders were either incorrectly added, omitted or still online after their deaths.
  • 179 errors related to how long an offender should stay on the registry.
  • 71 mistakes regarding which offenders' information should be posted online.

Hoffer says these mistakes undermine the credibility of the registry. It's managed by two people within the Department of Public Safety's Vermont Crime Information Center or VCIC. But the auditor says state courts and corrections also play a role.

"They have not worked together as well as they could," Hoffer said.

"The program is still a work in progress," said Jeffrey Wallin who heads the VCIC.

Wallin says since the audit's conclusion in mid-May, almost all the mistakes have been fixed.

Many of them were a result of human error from manual data entry, a problem the center has been working to streamline. Last February, VCIC unveiled new software called OffenderWatch to help automate data entry. Despite a few technology glitches, Wallin says it's improved the accuracy of the registry.
- It doesn't matter how expensive or nice the program is, as long as you have humans entering data, then there is always potential for human errors.

"Right now the public can be fairly confident in the registry," Wallin said. "We are always looking to improve. Provide better information, better service and better response to the community, but also to the individuals listed."

Moving forward Hoffer has recommended the courts, corrections and VCIC reconvene a working group to hash out their communication breakdown. It's a suggestion the auditor's office also made after the 2010 audit.

"And they did. And then they kind of let it go," Hoffer said. "So they certainly need more coordination between them."

And victims like Merrill say fixing these mistakes should remain a top priority.

"If it was one of their kids, would they want to know if their neighbor was a sex offender or had done such a crime with a child? Would they want their kid walking to school past their neighbor's house every day knowing that they live there?" Merrill said.
- So why don't you walk to the bus stop with your child?  You know, be a parent!

In 2009, Vermont lawmakers approved a measure to post sex offenders' addresses to the online registry. The move was contingent on a favorable audit. Problems discovered in 2010 prevented that from happening. This audit was a second chance. But more errors likely mean the addresses of sexual predators will remain under wraps.

Audit Reports:

CA - Tehachapi removes local sex offender ordinance from the books

Repeal the law
Original Article



Tehachapi's city council on Monday finalized a repeal of a local sex offender ordinance in order to stave off potential lawsuits.

City Attorney Tom Schroeter had recommended the council repeal an ordinance adopted in 2010 that was a stricter version of a California state law that prohibited any registered sex offender from loitering within 300 feet of a public or private school, park, school bus stop or similar facilities.

Two court opinions, including one case against the city of Irvine and Orange County, ruled that such local ordinances could not be enforced, and that it fell to the state to mandate such laws.

The presiding case was People v. Nguyen, which was ruled on in January in the 4th District Court of Appeal. The California Supreme Court denied an appeal of the case by the Orange County district attorney's office in April.

Tehachapi modeled its ordinance after one that Shafter had on its books at the time. Shafter suspended its law this spring, waiting to see what happens with litigation in other cities. Then it'll decide whether to amend, repeal or keep the law.

Following the court's rulings, a group called California Reform Sex Offender Laws issued letters to several cities, including Tehachapi, saying it would sue if the municipalities did not rescind the ordinances.

"They sent letters to cities in Kern County and around the state and have sued several other cities," Schroeter said.

Schroeter recommended the council revoke the ordinance, as the city would likely lose a lawsuit. It would also be responsible for any of the suing organizations' legal fees, in addition to its own.

"When they win, their legal fees have to be paid, and your fees also have to be paid," Schroeter said.

The city attorney also noted that retired Police Chief Jeff Kermode had stated no one had ever been cited under the Tehachapi ordinance.

"Our particular law is already covered under state law," Schroeter said. "Sex offenders are still well controlled by state law and the ordinance here is not going to change that."

The state law, Jessica's Law (Proposition 83), bars convicted sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of any school or any place where children gather. The law was passed by voters in 2006.

The council voted 5-0 to remove the ordinance from the city municipal code.

"In essence, we thought we were doing the right thing when we passed this ordinance to make things more restrictive," said Mayor Phil Smith. "It's been tried in court that says you can't do that so we'll just back off from our restrictions and go with what the state has on its books, which is fully enforceable."
- So is he admitting the laws are about punishment by making them more restrictive?

MA - Templeton approves sex offender residency restrictions

Morning coffee and paper
Original Article


By George Barnes

TEMPLETON - Voters at a special town meeting Thursday night approved a bylaw establishing sex offender residency restrictions.

The restrictions, proposed by resident Rachael Messina, were overwhelmingly approved after Police Chief Michael Bennett and Selectman Kenn Robinson both spoke in favor of the bylaw.

Chief Bennett said there are many communities across the state that have adopted residency restrictions for sex offenders. Among the communities in Worcester County with restrictions are Leominster, Bolton, Charlton, Dudley, Spencer, Webster and West Boylston.

Templeton has three Level 3 and 13 Level 2 sex offenders in town. The regulations would not affect them unless they change their residence.

The bylaw prohibits a Level 2 or 3 sex offender from establishing a permanent or temporary residence within 1,000 feet of property of public or private schools, parks, elderly housing, an over-55 community, senior citizens center or licensed day care center.

To enforce the bylaw, police may file criminal or noncriminal complaints, but in both cases the fine is $300 for each offense.

Ms. Messina said she filed for the bylaw out of concern that sex offenders posed a risk to residents of the town. It is the second time the town has approved a sex offender residency bylaw. A similar law was approved by the town in May 2013 but disallowed by the state Attorney General's office in October. The reasons given for rejecting the bylaw were it was too vague, did not sufficiently specify prohibited conduct and did not include some terms in the definitions section of the bylaw.

Ms Messina said that in the hope of winning approval this time, she drew up a new bylaw based on similar documents in other communities.

WI - Milwaukee May Restrict Where Sex Offenders Can Live

Morning coffee and paper
Original Article



The city may limit where ex-offenders can live, because many surrounding communities have done so, resulting in a high rate of placement in the city.

When sex offenders leave prison, state law demands that they return to the county where they had lived prior to incarceration. Nearly 90 percent of the sex offenders who came from Milwaukee County, now live in the City of Milwaukee, because of restrictions suburbs enacted.

Ald. Michael Murphy says the city asked the state to intervene, but because it has not, leaders here may also limit the neighborhoods where ex-offenders can live.

You will have 117 locations to consider for your future placement, and in reality it will be more like 15 or less and what that impact will be to your operations,” Murphy says.

Under legislation a Common Council committee advanced Thursday, sex offenders could not live within 2,000 feet of a daycare, school, playground and other places where children congregate.

Murphy says if the full council agrees, there will only be one square mile within city limits where sex offenders could live.

Ald. Bob Bauman says while he has opposed residency limits in the past, they will now get his full support, for one reason.

It increases the perception of Milwaukee as a crime infested second rate place to live and the suburbs are great and look, we can keep out all the undesirable people. And I’m just sick and tired of that paradigm being in place. And the state seems unconcerned because these are Republican suburbs by in large, and heaven forbid those representatives are going to take on these uniform residency rules. So enough is enough the city is going to join the party and it’s your problem now,” Bauman says.

The state Department of Corrections had a representative on hand at Thursday’s hearing, Melissa Roberts. She says if the map for placements changes, authorities could lose track of sex offenders. Right now, many do reside in the city, and police know where.

The intent of the sex offender registry is to know where sex offenders live and to be able to provide that information to the general public and to law enforcement. Where there are registry restrictions in place and sex offenders don’t have a place to live we obviously have increased homelessness. So we do not know where they live and cannot follow them,” Roberts says.

Roberts says sex offenders are more of a danger to the public when they’re off the grid versus being monitored. When it comes to complaints about the high concentration of sex offenders placed in Milwaukee, Roberts says the majority are from the city.

The issue will come before the full board on July 22.