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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

November 17, 2018   |   Ithaca, NY

Opinion

National recap: Over 1,200 sex offenders unaccounted for in Missouri

According to an audit report released by Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway on Oct. 1, approximately 1,300 sex criminals have failed to register in Missouri.

The report reveals that the state cannot account for 1,259 of the 15,882 sex criminals required to register with state law enforcement. Out of the unaccounted sex offenders, about 800 of them are considered to be the most dangerous — those convicted of rape, sodomy or child molestation in the first or second degree.

The sex offender registration in Missouri also requires local authorities to notify members of communities sex offenders live in. This means wherever the unaccounted offenders are, their neighbors are unaware of their convictions. Galloway voiced her concern on this matter at a press conference Oct. 1 in St. Louis.

“What my audit reveals is disturbing,” Galloway said. “Because local law enforcement officials don’t know where these offenders are, that means the citizens don’t know where they are either.”

At both the press conference and in the audit, Galloway places the blame of losing track of sex offenders on local law enforcement, which has not been adequately enforcing sex offender laws.

According to state laws, sex offenders are required to register their name, address and other information every six months — or more frequently, depending on the victim’s age —  with local law enforcement. If an offender fails to do so, law enforcement is supposed to issue a warrant for arrest.

At the news conference, Galloway said law enforcement rarely keeps up with issuing these warrants, failing to issue over 91 percent of them.

“Statewide, arrest warrants have not been issued for over 91 percent of unaccounted for registered sex offenders,” Galloway said. “There has not been an effort made to hold them accountable for once again violating the law.”

In defense of local law enforcement, Andy Binder, Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office lieutenant,  told local news outlet KPLR the mandate to monitor registered sex offenders came in 1995 with no additional funding. Because one of the only ways to hold sex offenders accountable and check their location is by going door to door, he said, many police departments do not have the resources to do that.

Binder also said that the numbers of sex offenders in different counties can be deceiving due to some offenders’ habits of falsely reporting when they move.

“Some sex offenders say they’re moving into a different county and never go there at all,” Binder said. “It’s your responsibility to ensure they’re compliant, even though they have never lived a single minute in your county.”

Missouri is not the only state missing a large portion of its sex offenders from its registry. Both Massachusetts and Wisconsin have recently released audits revealing they both have over one thousand sex offenders who have not registered their location.

According to a letter from the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau sent to Wisconsin state representative Sondy Pope in August 2018, the state does not have updated information for nearly 3,000 of its more than 25,000 registered sex offenders. These sex offenders are listed as “non-compliant” on the registry, meaning they have failed to send a registration or confirmation letter on time or to update their information.

On Sept. 27, 2017, Massachusetts State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump revealed that the state of Massachusetts did not have the current addresses of 1,769 sex offenders.

To combat this, Bump said at a legislative committee hearing that the Massachusetts’ Sex Offender Registry Board needed to be more proactive about tracking down noncompliant sex offenders.

“What is needed at the SORB is a change of culture and mindset,” Bump said. “From one that is passive — managing and processing information that comes to them — to one that is active, in which they seek out information about those who are out of compliance, innovate to overcome challenges they face and take advantage of the tools and resources at their disposal to ensure they meet their mission.”

Meredith Burke can be reached at mburke@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @meredithsburke