Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Law Forcing Sex Felons to Register Is Lax, Police Say

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Law Forcing Sex Felons to Register Is Lax, Police Say

Article excerpt

Missouri's new law that requires rapists, child molesters and other sex offenders to register with local police when they get out of prison doesn't go far enough, say police chiefs here. They want to tell the public who's on the list and where they live.

"I say the public should know everything," said O'Fallon Police Chief Michael Kernan. "Make them wear something around their necks and publish their names in the newspapers."

As of Wednesday, all men and women convicted of a felony sex offense since July 1, 1979, must file their fingerprints, photo and address with police in the community where they take up residence.

Failing to register is a misdemeanor punishable with a fine up to $1,000 and one year in the county jail. Police chiefs say they intend to track down scofflaws.

Lt. Robert Gartner of the Missouri Highway Patrol says about 2,500 people on probation or parole for the crimes should be registered. So far, the patrol has only about 670 registrations.

The patrol keeps the master list and can share it with police throughout the country - but with no one else.

That bothers St. Louis County Police Chief Ron Battelle. He said he thinks people have a right to know if a sex offender, particularly a child molester, lives next door.

If people have the information, they can prevent similar crimes, Battelle said. "Certainly you don't want chaos in the neighborhood, but it may make the guy move."

The father of a girl who he says was molested in St. Charles County agrees. "I mean, it's for the safety of the kids," the father said. "I brought this man into our home. I wouldn't have done it if I'd known." The suspect was on probation for a similar offense.

State Rep. Steven Gaw, D-Moberly, the legislator who sponsored the registration measure, is having second thoughts about restricting the information on offenders to police.

"I wanted to see that we got off ground zero, where we were," Gaw said. Now he is studying laws of other states that provide offenders' names and addresses to the public. He said he might want to revise Missouri's law.

Dan Viets, of Columbia, president of the Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, strongly objects to the idea of making offenders' whereabouts public.

"Some people, I think in particular some police officers, would like to have a public registry everywhere for every crime and have it tattooed on these people's foreheads," Viets said. But he said that would keep them from successfully integrating into society.

"Once an offender has served his term of imprisonment," he said, "he should be given an opportunity to lead a law-abiding life again. If he's made to suffer this stigma for the rest of his time on this earth, the likelihood of him offending again is going to be increased, and not decreased."

***** Why Publicize?

Battelle and other chiefs in St. Charles and St. Louis counties say an informed public is a safer public. That's the message on the fliers distributed by the Seattle Police Department. Of the 28 or so states that require registration of sex offenders, Washington's is the most open to the public.

Anyone convicted after Feb. 28, 1990, must register with the local police. Then, a committee of police officers, lawyers and others ranks them according to their perceived danger to the community.

Level 1 offenders generally are unlikely to commit a similar crime. Their targets usually were specific family members or other close acquaintances. Police keep Level 1 offenders' records on file and make them available to anyone who wants to know if he or she has a sex offender living nearby.

Level 2 offenders are likely to commit a similar crime. Their photographs and vital statistics are distributed on fliers within one or two miles of the offender's house - to schools, libraries, recreation centers and other places where adults or children congregate. …

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