Few child sex abusers registering Offenders required to notify police. who notify schools

Law written for 'predator'

16 violators complied

residents uninformed of right to know

September 02, 1996|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

Perhaps "Megan's Law" should be renamed "Muddled Law."

Three months after President Clinton signed a law requiring some neighborhood notification when child sex offenders move in, few of the hundreds of Maryland offenders have registered with police, and problems have popped up across the state.

Many Marylanders don't know that child molesters are living in their neighborhoods -- or that the law enables them to find out. Police often do not notify neighbors about offenders. And some offenders say they received incorrect information about registration requirements.

Meanwhile, prosecutors, although glad there is such a law, criticize its loopholes. The biggest: Anyone who molested a child before October 1995 -- even if released today -- does not have to register.

Although at least 4,000 child sex offenses occur in Maryland in an average year, only 16 people have registered. No one knows how many should register, or how many are ignoring the law.

"What's real important to me is that the public not think that when they go to the Police Department and are told there are no offenders [registered] in the area, that there aren't any. There could be one right next door," said Assistant State's Attorney John P. Cox, who prosecutes sex crimes in Baltimore County.

The legislation is called "Megan's Law" after a 7-year-old New Jersey girl, Megan Kanka, who in 1994 was raped and strangled; a convicted sex offender who lived across the street has been charged in her death.

The measure, which took effect in May, adds new teeth to a 1994 law that required states to alert local police when convicted sex offenders are released from prison. Megan's Law adds another requirement: that police notify schools when offenders move into a neighborhood and give the public the information on request.

Ten days after their release or sentencing, offenders must give local police their name, address, date of birth and age and let the police take photos and fingerprints. The process is repeated once a year for 10 years.

Local police must notify state police and schools in the offender's neighborhood and may choose to notify churches and other community groups. Residents, meanwhile, can write to local police departments to find out whether an offender lives nearby.

But the information is not widely publicized. Though state officials say publicity on the law has been adequate, only two or three residents in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties have requested information, according to local police departments.

Peter D. Christensen, central records manager with the Anne Arundel police force, said that he has given information to groups such as the Boy Scouts when they have requested it, but that it would be too laborious to notify groups that haven't sought the information.

The same thing happens in Baltimore. "We do not go out and make notification. The law doesn't require it," said police spokesman Sam Ringgold.

In Baltimore County, police notified the Department of Recreation and Parks and a local chapter of Girl Scouts in the neighborhood of one offender, but community groups near the home of another offender were not told -- because police did not think he was a danger.

"We look at the facts of the case and try and make a reasonable decision about what would be best for the community and everybody involved," said Lt. David P. Wolinski, who manages the county's list. "The law was written to catch the predator, but the problem is the law, because it's so broad, registers a lot of people that probably aren't in that category."

If all civic groups are notified about every offender, he said, "You can alarm the community for no reason."

That stance frustrates Gloria Goldfaden, who heads the Maryland chapter of the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse.

"I am particularly angry about Anne Arundel County and Baltimore County, for their lack of at least abiding by the spirit of the law," to give information to the community, she said. "Certainly they are doing a disservice to the community as a whole."

Goldfaden, executive director of Annapolis-based People Against Child Abuse, said if police informed churches, civic groups and neighborhood associations, prosecutors would see fewer second-time molesters.

"We feel like it's a protection and prevention tool that helps the offender to control himself or herself," she said.

Donald H. Beatty Sr., a 64-year-old grandfather of three, lives in the 4400 block of Scotia Road in Baltimore Highlands -- across the street from a convicted rapist who registered this summer.

"I'm not familiar with any of the laws," said Beatty, adding that a reporter's query marked his first notice of the neighbor's record or the registry. Had he known about the man, he said, he would have warned his preteen grandchildren.

In Baltimore, Robert L. Twele, 34, the father of four children, lives fTC in the 1200 block of Cedarcroft Road, across the street from a man who was convicted of engaging in a sexual act with a child.

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