Police locate sex offenders who moved to the state

But many already here have unknown addresses

September 08, 2005|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Maryland State Police said yesterday that they have located dozens of criminals who moved to the state without reporting to authorities in charge of the state's sex offender registry, which is also riddled with errors and missing information on those already on the list.

Working with a list of more than 400 sex offenders who, according to a national registry, had said they were moving to Maryland, troopers located 69 living in Maryland who had not registered with authorities.

The state police operation comes as part of a recent push by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to improve the accuracy of the sex offender registry, which has become an issue in the 2006 gubernatorial campaign.

"The purpose is to make sure these people report," said the state police superintendent, Col. Thomas E. "Tim" Hutchins, who was asked by the governor to lead a group of law enforcement and public safety officials in making recommendations to improve the accuracy of Maryland's registry.

Designed to inform communities about convicted rapists, child molesters and other sex offenders living nearby, the registry contains the names and addresses of more than 4,300 offenders. But the addresses for about one in five - or 800 sex offenders - were listed last month as questionable or unknown in the state's registry, which relies on the offenders to provide up-to-date information.

Across the state, the addresses of hundreds of sex offenders have not been verified by local authorities - some of whom routinely check addresses and others who rely on certified mail.

Hutchins said yesterday that he is meeting with local law enforcement and state officials on how to verify addresses and correct errors in the registry.

"That's the next piece of it," he said, adding that he will discuss the topic at this week's convention of sheriffs in Ocean City.

Hutchins said the state police chose to first focus on unregistered sex offenders because no agency in the state is assigned to investigate sex offenders moving to Maryland who are not also required to meet with parole or probation officers.

The National Sex Offender Registry listed 403 sex offenders who had said they were going to move to Maryland in the past 10 years, Hutchins said. Last month, state police criminal investigators and civilian staff began checking records and knocking on doors in search of those offenders. State police were able to confirm the whereabouts of all but seven of the sex offenders, officials said.

Sixty-nine of the sex offenders were ordered to register with local authorities so their names and addresses can be added to Maryland's registry, state police said. Police will search for the seven sex offenders they haven't found, Hutchins said.

Troopers were able to verify that 130 of the 403 sex offenders who were believed to have moved to Maryland are now living elsewhere, state police officials said. An additional 88 on the list never moved to Maryland, according to the investigators. They also found that 104 are in federal or state prisons and that five of the 403 had died, police said.

The state police effort won praise from elected officials.

"I'm glad they're going out and doing this," said Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "But it's clear that there's got to be a better administrative process in place. It's unrealistic to expect that all sex offenders are going to abide by an honor system."

Ehrlich and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, who is expected to seek the Democratic nomination, have been talking in recent weeks about ways to improve the accuracy of the registry and track sex offenders when they are released from prison.

Yesterday, Ehrlich called the operation "an aggressive statewide sweep to track down sex offenders who move to the state of Maryland."

A spokesman for O'Malley said yesterday that the recent state police efforts are a "good first step."

"Part of the issue is the lack of centralization," said the spokesman, Stephen Kearney. "People slip through the cracks. ... Hopefully, we can work together to extend efforts like this to the GPS tracking for child-sex offenders as the mayor proposed last month."

The creation of lifetime supervision through electronic devices for about 3,000 child-sex offenders and sexually violent predators was part of a six-point plan offered by O'Malley.

Ehrlich has said he plans to offer another proposal next year mandating that released sex offenders appear twice a year in person to update their registration with law enforcement agencies. Noncompliance would bring increased penalties, he said.

Both Ehrlich and O'Malley have suggested that sex offenders who fail to register a correct address with the state should be charged with a felony instead of a misdemeanor.

Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons, a Montgomery County Democrat, said yesterday that he is concerned that the issue is becoming too political. "What we need are the facts. If there is, in fact, a problem, why has it taken four years to become visible?" he said. "I have yet to see any legislation. All I've seen so far is press releases."

Sun staff writer Jennifer Skalka contributed to this article.

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