Steps to keep tabs on sex offenders vary widely

Some Md. jurisdictions send officers to check in person. Others rely on the mail.

August 06, 2005|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

In Calvert County, sheriff's deputies make it a point to drop in several times a year on the people listed on the state's sex-offender registry - just to be sure they still live where they say they do.

Not so in Somerset County. There the sheriff's department doesn't confirm in person the addresses of any registered sex offenders. Officials say they just don't have the manpower.

A survey by The Sun of the state's 23 counties and Baltimore City reveals a wide range of policies to verify the accuracy of the registry for the state's 4,300 convicted sex offenders.

Offenders are required to keep their addresses current with the registry but often don't - as became evident last week when a convicted rapist, Carl Preston Evans Jr., was accused of killing his stepdaughter. A check of records found that he had failed to update his registration for years and that police had never looked for him.

Though registered letters sent to Evans by the state were returned unopened, authorities didn't start searching for Evans until he was charged with stabbing the 13-year-old and setting his Essex rowhouse on fire.

Police arrested him yesterday in Baltimore.

Because Evans was one of 800 registered offenders in the state whose addresses are listed as unknown or in question, the case has drawn new scrutiny to the state's Sex Offender Registry.

The registry is designed to inform communities about convicted rapists, molesters and others who have completed their prison sentences and are living nearby. But Maryland's registry is riddled with flawed and missing information.

The Sun's review found:

Even basic information about the number and types of sex offenders might not always be accurate. For example, there are three sexually violent predators - considered the "worst of the worst" - listed in the state's online registry. But local law enforcement agencies report that their records - based on their own efforts to track the offenders - show twice that many.

Local law enforcement officials say they often have difficulty finding out what registered sex offenders have been convicted of, the age of their victims, and when they were released from prison - especially if the sex offender has moved to Maryland from another state.

Across Maryland, there are hundreds of sex offenders whose addresses have never been confirmed as accurate by authorities. And state law doesn't require authorities to check in person on the whereabouts of sex offenders.

"There has to be a public outrage over this," said Pat Cronin, executive director of the Family Tree, a local nonprofit group dedicated to preventing child abuse and neglect. "If there isn't, there will never be the resources dedicated to it."

Maryland's system has won plaudits from national authorities - including an A-plus grade by Parents for Megan's Law, a national advocacy group - but the ratings are based on how much information is provided to the public on the registry, not on the accuracy of the information.

Other states do even less: California and New York were among those given F's.

Seeking new ideas

Yesterday, the state police superintendent, Col. Thomas E. Hutchins, and Public Safety Secretary Mary Ann Saar said Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. had asked them to work with local police and sheriffs and submit recommendations for making the registry more accurate.

"The registry is an important resource for people in communities to know who the offenders are and where they're living," said Hutchins.

State law first required sex offenders in Maryland to register with authorities in 1996, the year after Congress passed "Megan's Law," which requires states to keep track of registered sex offenders. Citizens can search the registry at us/onlineservs/sor.

The law is named for Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old girl from Trenton, N.J., who was raped and murdered in 1994 by her neighbor, a convicted pedophile.

Like the information in most states' registries, the addresses of Maryland's offenders come in large part from the offenders themselves, who are required to confirm their addresses once a year and inform authorities when they move.

The state adds an offender's intended address to the registry when he or she is released from prison or jail or, in some cases, after a hospital stay or court appearance. Depending on their classification, offenders must either report annually to a local law enforcement agency or respond to registered mail from the state or a local agency.

The registry's administrators rely on local law enforcement to investigate when offenders don't respond to registered letters, said David P. Wolinski, the official in charge of the state's registry.

"It's not perfect. ... An offender can give us an address today and pack up the moving van tomorrow," said Wolinski, who is director of the state's Criminal Justice Information System. "Unless someone tells us, we won't know until their annual registration is overdue."

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