Clinton backs idea of molester registry President endorses creating national listing of known sex offenders

June 23, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

CLEVELAND -- Keeping up his political offensive on law and order, President Clinton yesterday endorsed legislation to create a national registry to track sex offenders and child molesters, and he ordered Attorney General Janet Reno to devise guidelines on setting up a registry even without a new law.

In his weekly radio address, Clinton said the recent passage of the law requiring states to notify communities when a violent sex offender is released from prison or placed on parole was a good first step.

But he said more steps are needed to guard against repeat offenses.

To do so, he endorsed legislation sponsored by Sens. Joseph Biden, a Delaware Democrat, and Phil Gramm, a Texas Republican, to develop a national database to keep track of known sex offenders.

Already, the 1994 crime bill requires states to have such systems by next year to track offenders within their own borders. The new measure would extend that nationwide.

In the meantime, Clinton said, "I'm directing the attorney general to report back in 60 days with a plan to guarantee our police officers this information right away.

"The police officer in Cleveland should be able to get information on all known sex offenders in Cleveland, whether they committed their crimes in New York or Los Angeles," he said.

"Every bit of information we have about the people who commit these crimes should be available to law enforcement wherever and whenever they need it," he added.

White House aides said the president's move was intended to determine whether legislation was needed, or whether a database could be created administratively, and to ensure that as states move forward in compiling their own records, they do so in a way that ensures easy sharing across state lines.

Officials said that could range from requiring comparable methods of collection to computer software compatible from state to state.

Civil liberties groups have raised concerns about such measures as potential invasions of privacy and the possibility of abuse. But Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, issued a statement thanking the president and calling a registry "an invaluable tool for law enforcement."

"State systems would be enough if offenders never moved," Allen said. "However, there is abundant evidence that many offenders move from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and many offenders have a high propensity to re-offend."

A 15-year study by the California Department of Justice of 1,300 sex offenders arrested in 1973 found that 19.7 percent were re-arrested for a subsequent sexual offense. It found that sex offenders were five times more likely than other violent offenders and more than six times more likely than all types of offenders to commit another sex offense.

"We respect people's rights," Clinton said. "But there is no right greater than a parent's right to raise a child in safety and love. That's why the law should follow those who prey on America's children wherever they go, state to state, town to town."

Pub Date: 6/23/96

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