Monitoring sex offenders locally a full-time task
There are currently 133 registered sex offenders in Washington County, all of whom have a variety rules to follow in order to stay within the letter of the law.
Ensuring that offenders adhere to those rules, checking up on their whereabouts, and keeping the public informed of nearby offenders is a full-time task-one overseen by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.
“Sex offenders move around a lot. They’ll find housing and for one reason or another they’ll lose it or get run out,” noted Sgt. Patrice Tornes, who oversees the sex offender registration and compliance for the sheriff’s office.
While it is up to the offender to report his or her whereabouts to the WSCO on a regular basis, as determined by the level of the crime, the sheriff’s office still checks up on those whereabouts, said Tornes.
“We go out and we check on every single one of them. We try to cycle through them and we check on phone calls and tips (of non-compliance) right away,” she explained.
Based on the most recent round of compliancy? checks, all 133 local offenders are in compliance-living where they say they are, said Tornes.
However, that is not always the case. If an offender moves, it is his or her job to let the sheriff’s office know before the move occurs.
An offender who does not do so can be charged with a felony.
Showing up to the sheriff’s office to verify in person is another ongoing obligation for offenders, the frequency and duration of which is dependent upon the crime.
Tier I offenders, who have committed crimes such as gross sexual imposition and voyeurism, are required to report in person once a year for 15 years. Tier II offenders report every six months for 25 years. And the most series offenders, those in Tier III, must check in every 90 days for the rest of their lives.
A Lowell sex offender arrested while operating a ride at the Washington County Fair earlier this month was guilty of both not checking in when scheduled and not living at his stated address.
A deputy recognized James G. Harris Jr., 35, of 306 Third St. Apt. A, as someone who was wanted on a warrant for the crimes.
Harris is once again in compliance, said Tornes.
While Harris was ultimately charged with two felonies-failure to register a change of address, a third-degree felony, and failure to verify, a fourth-degree felony-there are no laws to prevent him from working at the fair, in close proximity to children.
There are laws prohibiting sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school or daycare. However, the only employment they are barred from seeking is in the medical nursing field, said Tornes.
“There is nothing to say they can’t work at a school. Of course it would be greatly discouraged,” she said.
Place of employment is just one of the many tidbits offenders are required to divulge to the sheriff’s office. Likewise, they are required to provide all of their phone numbers, e-mail addresses, passwords to any online accounts, vehicle registration. As with residency, offenders must report changes as they occur.
The sheriff’s office also runs multiple programs to keep the public informed about sex offenders living, working, or attending school in the community, said WSCO Chief Deputy Mark Warden.
Anyone can see a list of sex offenders by tier or search for sex offenders by location by clicking the “Sex Offender” tab at the WCSO’s website, www.washingtoncountysheriff.org.
The sheriff’s office also sends out a flier to neighborhood residents when a Tier III offender, a sexual predator, or habitual offender moves into a neighborhood. The fliers go to anyone living within 1,200 feet of the offender, said Tornes.
As an added means of outreach, the sheriff’s office also runs a slide show of current sex offender information during the Washington County Fair, said Warden.
Doing these things is a way to help keep the public informed, he said.
“We do this for community awareness. People can get online and see the charge. and see who the victim is,” said Warden.
People can also sign up to receive e-mail alerts when a sex offender moves into the area, regardless of what tier their offense is.