Tracking sex offenders

Monday, January 26, 2004

Six years have passed since Missouri began requiring convicted sexual offenders to register with local sheriff's departments, but in many counties the registry isn't being kept up to date.

Missouri's registry law says convicted sex offenders must register with the sheriff's office where they live or move within 10 days of their conviction or release from prison or probation placement.

Each department must then maintain a sex offenders registry, but there is no standard for how to do that. The law only says that departments must provide such a list to the public when one is requested.

There is no statewide list accessible to the public.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol's criminal records division keeps the registration forms, photographs and fingerprints that sheriff's department send in periodically. However, the patrol doesn't release any of the information or keep statistics on what area of the state has the highest concentration of registered offenders.

Both Cape Girardeau and Scott counties put their lists online, but Cape Girardeau's list hasn't been updated since November 2002. In Scott County, Capt. Jerry Bledsoe makes it a priority to keep the Web list updated once he's notified of a change.

Because sheriff's departments say they don't have the staff to constantly keep watch over sexual offenders' movements, no one is notifying vulnerable communities or individuals when a sex offender is released or moves into the neighborhood.

Cape Girardeau police recently discovered a sex offender who had been living in the county for months but was registered in Alexander County, Ill. He wouldn't have been discovered at all except that he was arrested on another complaint.

Because of the way the existing registry law is formulated, the courts and probation and parole officers are left to tell offenders that they must register or face prosecution. But there's really no way to check up on an offender once he or she leaves the parole system.

Cape Girardeau County Sheriff John Jordan supports the premise of Megan's Law but says it's just another example of lawmakers ordering records without any concern of the cost or work involved.

Gov. Bob Holden wants to give these sex offender registries a priority in his administration but hasn't offered any mechanism for how to keep them updated.

Registries for convicted sexual offenders could be a good tool for law enforcement agencies and the public to use, but lawmakers didn't create a system that can be well-maintained or effective, and it continues to put people at risk.

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