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Legislators address crime problems

September 24, 2005|TAMELA BAKER

HAGERSTOWN

tammyb@herald-mail.com

Combating interstate crime - particularly dealing with the migration of gangs and tracking sex offenders who move around - poses special challenges for law enforcement officers with limited jurisdictions.

Legislators from Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia listened Friday to officials from all four states as they explained the problems they have enforcing compliance with sex offender registries and how they would like to see those problems solved. They also heard how the respective states are trying to deal with the infiltration of gangs, notably the notorious MS-13, a Latino gang that Lt. Terry L. Katz of the Maryland State Police said has origins in Central America.

All four states have sex offender registries, but they're not all consistent. Additionally, each state has found problems in forcing compliance with registration.

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Kimberly Hamilton, a Martinsburg, W.Va., native who now is executive director of the Virginia State Crime Commission, told the annual Quad-State Legislative Conference that when the commission decided to look at how well Virginia's registry was working, a pilot study of the Richmond area showed that of the 218 offenders registered there, nearly a fourth - 23 percent - were missing. For another 8 percent, pertinent information was missing from the registry.

When they took the investigation statewide, Hamilton said 600 offenders were missing, 213 who were shown to have moved out of state were back in Virginia jails and prisons, and another 720 who had been in prisons were released and unaccounted for.

The problem, said Alan Friedman, director of legislative relations for Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich, is that "sexual offenders are among the most mobile offenders."

Registry requirements in every state should have certain basic criteria, said Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

"At a minimum, we need to know where they are and what they're doing," Allen said.

The criteria include:

  • Registering juvenile offenders. Most offenders who abuse children begin by age 15, Allen said.

  • Allowing only a brief window for offenders to provide changes in their registry information, such as addresses.

  • Requiring that states actively notify other states when an offender moves.

  • Requiring offenders to remain on the registry for at least 10 years.

  • More frequent verification of registry information.

  • Making noncompliance a felony. In Maryland and Virginia, noncompliance is a misdemeanor, Allen said. In Pennsylvania and West Virginia, noncompliance is a misdemeanor for some offenders and a felony for others.

  • Revoking parole or probation for noncompliance.


Most of the lawmakers said they plan to seek legislation to tighten up requirements in their respective states. Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, has said cracking down on sex offenders will be one of his legislative priorities in the 2006 General Assembly.

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