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.
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."
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.
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.
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 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.