Safety officials suggest registry fix

Changes include annual in-person check-ins, updates for sex offenders

July 29, 2005|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Maryland public safety officials said yesterday that they will ask state lawmakers to help improve the accuracy of the state's sex offender registry by requiring more offenders to check in with local law enforcement.

With questionable or unknown addresses for as many as one in five registered offenders, the official in charge of those records also said the agency plans to find ways to more promptly update the registry and to keep closer tabs on the status of police investigations into questionable or unknown addresses for offenders.

The problems in accounting for the whereabouts of the more than 4,300 offenders in the online database were illustrated this week when the address listed for a convicted rapist who is accused of killing his 13-year-old stepdaughter in Essex was found to be misspelled and unconfirmed.

Carl Preston Evans Jr. is one of about 800 offenders whose addresses are listed as "under investigation" on the registry. Baltimore County police continued to search yesterday for Evans, who is charged in an arrest warrant with first-degree murder, attempted murder and arson.

There is no quick way to determine how long a local law enforcement agency has been investigating questionable addresses or the status of those reviews, said David P. Wolinski, assistant director of the state's Criminal Justice Information System. He also said it can take a week or more for information from offenders or local law enforcement agencies to be entered into the registry.

"One of the things on our plate now is to revamp our system," he said.

Among the proposals that the department will likely seek in the next General Assembly is a law that would require "sexually violent offenders" and those classified as "offenders" to register annually in person at a police or sheriff's department, said Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for the state's department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. Those sex offenders are now required to verify their addresses by mail.

Prior attempts to pass such a measure have failed.

Some sheriff's departments have objected to the personnel costs of having more offenders required to check in with them, state officials said. However, Del. Bobby A. Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat who serves on the House Judiciary Committee, said the measure may receive a more favorable response next year.

"I think the accuracy of the registry is clearly an issue we'll be looking at," he said.

On average, 24 percent of the information in state sex offender registries is inaccurate, said Laura Ahearn, executive director of Parents for Megan's Law, a national advocacy group.

"We're expecting society's most cunning of all criminals to, on an honor system, register their up-to-date addresses with law enforcement or state agencies," she said. "It's ridiculous."

Earlier this year, Maryland's handling of its registry received an A-plus rating from the group, based on how much information the state makes available to the public and because it has a law that allows prosecutors to seek confinement in treatment centers for sexual predators who have served criminal sentences, Ahearn said.

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