Monitoring sex offenders is monumental task

Kitsap County Sheriff’s Sgt. Lori Blankenship has a job no one would envy.

She is tasked with overseeing the registration of sex offenders in Kitsap County and with keeping tabs on the county’s worst offenders.

Blankenship relies on an extensive network of law enforcement agencies nationwide, as well as the assistance of Kitsap County Sheriff’s deputies, to do her job.

“My job is to see that sex offenders can succeed,” Blankenship said. “If they don’t succeed in life and move forward, we may have more victims. I don’t want them to fail and go back behind bars. I want them to succeed.”

The Community Protection Act of 1990 requires people convicted of sex crimes to register with local sheriff’s offices when they are released from prison. The act also requires law enforcement officials to notify the public of registered sex offender’s names, residence, crimes and conditions of release.

Before a sex offender is released, a review board uses a series of factors to determine the offender’s likelihood to reoffend. The factors include the victim’s ages, how old the offender was at the time of his or her first offense, the number of victims there were, whether the offender has undergone counseling.

Based on the assessment, the offenders are categorized at three levels, with level one being least likely to reoffend and level three being the most likely to reoffend.

When the offenders are released, the Washington State Department of Corrections determines whether the offender will be on parole or probation. Also at the time of the release, the DoC determines if there will be any conditions placed on the offender’s release, Blankenship said.

There are currently more than 560 registered sex offenders in Kitsap County, Blankenship said.

“This position could keep two (detectives) and an administrative assistant busy full-time,” she said.

If the offenders are determined to be level three sex offenders and live in an unincorporated area of Kitsap County, Sheriff’s deputies do a physical check every six months. If a deputy goes to a residence and the offender is not living there, a warrant is issued for his or her arrest.

Offenders who are homeless are required to check in with Blankenship once a week.

If the offender does move out of the residence on the registration, he or she is required to notify Blankenship of their new address within 72 hours.

While Blankenship monitors level three sex offenders who live in unincorporated areas, city police agencies are responsible for monitoring offenders who live within city limits.

Sgt. Wendy Davis, a detective with the Bremerton Police Department, said it is important for the public to remember that once a sex offender has served his sentence, they have the same rights as any other citizen.

“Basically, they have the same rights as the rest of us. They have the right to seek a job or to go to school,” she said.

Davis pointed out that if sex offenders have a solid home base and a strong support network after they are released, they are less likely to reoffend.

That is a point that is reiterated by other law enforcement officials.

When Victoria Roberts, the community protection adminstrator for the Washington State Department of Corrections, found out a convicted sex offender was moving into her neighborhood, she did something unusual: she went to his house and welcomed him. She also warned him by saying if she noticed any behavior that may mean he was fraternizing with children she would report him to the authorities.

Roberts figured it was better to have the convicted child molester living near her so she could keep an eye on him than for him to be homeless and unmonitored.

“The biggest problem when releasing the level three sex offenders is public fear,” Roberts said. “A lot of news programs that highlight sex offenders and a lot of TV shows do a lot to promote our fear of sex offenders. If someone is watching those TV shows on a regular basis, they are more likeley to believe sex offenders are likely to jump out of the bushes anywhwere and grab our children.”

Statistically, the reality of sex offenses is that more than 85 percent of victims, children and otherwise, know the offenders, Roberts said.

“Our children are much more at risk from people who are already involved in the lives of our children,” she said.

Law enforcement agencies often are stuck between public sentiment and the law.

“You get that fear factor going; there’s a natural tendency to say ‘I don’t care where you send those people, just don’t send them here,’” she said.

In fact, in the last calendar year, 58 percent of level three sex offenders were homeless after their release from prison because the state was not able to find a community willing to accept them.

“What typically happens is the sex offenders fall off the radar screen,” she said. “We know what works; they are less likely to reoffend if they are being monitored and they take part in a treatment program.”

That knowledge played a critical role in the October 2001 U.S. Supreme Court decision to uphold the Community Protection Act of 1990 that granted the state wide range in terms of community notification.

“We need to recognize who the offenders are and what the risks of having them in the community are. We need to hold them accountable for what they’ve done and recognize what the risks are,” Roberts said.

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