750 sex offenders slip past state law - East Valley Tribune: News

750 sex offenders slip past state law

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Posted: Monday, March 3, 2003 10:41 am | Updated: 2:07 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

Loopholes in the law. Stagnant funding. Police agencies that don’t work together. Hundreds of criminals unaccounted for.

This is Arizona’s sex offender registration program — one of the best in the country.

Six Department of Public Safety employees work to verify the addresses of about 13,000 offenders who were released from prison in the state or moved here. Despite requests to the Legislature, the office’s $600,000 annual budget hasn’t changed in the four years since it was launched.

The workload has changed, though. About 800 more sex offenders are released each year in Arizona, said Val Biebrich, the civilian DPS employee who manages the registration unit. In 2001, the office needed 19 months to do verification checks of all the offenders. Now it takes two years.

"It’s going to get worse before it gets better," Biebrich said. "You could almost say you better throw us a life vest, quick."

To its credit, Biebrich said his office can account for all but 5.8 percent of the sex offenders who are supposed to register their whereabouts with authorities. A recent survey of state law enforcement agencies by a private organization, Parents for Megan’s Law, showed an average of 24 percent of "missing" sex offenders nationwide.

Earlier this month, the state launched a $300,000 Sex Crimes Analysis Network, an Internet-based sex offender mapping system that police will be able to use to retrieve detailed information about the sex criminals who must live their entire lives as branded men (and occasionally women). In many respects, the state is doing quite well in the sex offender registration department.

But that 5.8 percent translates to roughly 750 offenders. Experts say many of these socalled "absconders" are probably the most dangerous of their kind, because they could be avoiding police for some devious purpose.

As of Sunday, 174 absconders were listed on the state Web site

Bill Richardson, a former Mesa police officer, said he also believes more effort and resources should be spent on finding unregistered sex offenders. He wonders about people he helped arrest like Frank Amaro, a rapist listed as an absconder on the state’s Web site.

"You look at the depth of the behavior, the depths of the anger and the need for them to be in control," Richardson said. "This isn’t going away. This is part of the way they do things every day, and they’re out there."

Officials point out that it isn’t just registered sex offenders committing sex crimes. Yet sex criminals are prone to reoffend.

"I think DPS has just dropped the ball," Richardson said. "There’s no excuse for that, for having 750 offenders."

Jerry Crumb Jr., 35, served prison time for an offense and failed to register last year.

Crumb, who rammed a woman’s car before sexually assaulting her, had been found in December 2001 by Mesa police and written up for failure to register, a felony.

But he wasn’t taken to jail and charged with that crime until April 26, 2002, a few days after the bodies of Rosina Sorlie and her 4-year-old son, Johnathan, turned up in a remote area of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. Police had linked Crumb’s DNA to the crime scene.

DPS isn’t alone in trying to find the absconding sex offenders.

"I put some time into it, as time allows," said Scottsdale police detective Nelson LaPan, who works in the city’s sex crime unit.

LaPan said he will occasionally get tips on absconders or take a few names from the Web site and try to locate them. Some are transients who registered street corners as their addresses, he said.

"Some of them are pretty tough to find," he said. "I’ve got a number of things I do to try to look for them. When those run out, there’s not too many other places to turn."

One big hurdle to finding Arizona’s 750 or so absconders is that warrants cannot be issued for them unless they are on probation, which isn’t the case for most of them, officials said. Authorities don’t know if the person has registered faithfully in another state because they don’t get that information from other states.

Another problem is that Arizona law requires sex offenders to register within 72 hours after moving into a new dwelling. The offender who moves every two days would not technically be in violation of the law, officials said.

So, although the absconder’s picture is posted on the Internet, police must assume the person is not breaking the law.

"It’s kind of a loophole," said Cindy Nanetti, a bureau chief at the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. "It’s hard for us to issue a warrant if we’re not sure."

Biebrich said DPS asked for five more staff members for the department last year, and he would like one person to only hunt for absconders. His staff does not prioritize the absconders by potential danger to society, and some case files don’t get opened for "several years," Biebrich said.

DPS Director Dennis Garrett said he believes Biebrich’s office should get more funding, but the state’s fiscal crisis makes that unlikely to happen.

DPS is working to save the unit’s current budget, said DPS legislative liaison Jack Lane. Budget plans call for cutting the unit’s funding in half and charging sex offenders a yearly $37 registration cost.

DPS is fighting that plan because they believe a registration fee would deter even more offenders from complying, Lane said.

State Sen. Thayer Verschoor, R-Gilbert, said he will try to help fix the registration program’s shortcomings.

"Obviously, nobody wants us to not keep track of these people," said Verschoor, vice chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Victims like Meloy need that reassurance.

"I don’t want to know where he is," Meloy said of her attacker. "I just want to know that someone else does."

By the numbers:

• Approximate total of Arizona sex offenders as of February who are required to register: 13,000

• Employees in the Department of Public Safety unit assigned to keep track of Arizona’s sex offenders: 6

• Percentage increase of Arizona sex offenders since 1999: 30

• Percentage increase in budget for DPS sex offender registration unit since 1999: 0

• Approximate number of Arizona sex offenders as of February who cannot be found by DPS and are considered "absconders": 750

• Maricopa County Attorney’s Office prosecutions in 2002 for failing to register as a sex offender, a felony: 136" class="content-link" target="439">www.azsexoffender .org

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