Indiana’s sex offender registry is a valuable tool if its information is correct. But not all counties are diligent in ensuring the addresses of convicted sexual offenders are accurate. As a legislative study committee prepares to examine the registry this summer, lawmakers would be wise to look to Allen County’s experts.
The Indianapolis Star examined the state registry for a recent story and found many problems with Marion County listings. Some showed offenders living at addresses for vacant lots. Others reported addresses for offenders now imprisoned.
Many of the problems relate to Marion County’s handling of offenders convicted before July 1994. The Indiana Supreme Court ruled three years ago that Richard P. Wallace, convicted in 1989, shouldn’t be required to register for an offense committed before the statewide registry was created. The ruling applied to hundreds of others whose names had been wrongly included.
In Marion County and some others, the so-called Wallace offenders have been left on the registry with the last address they reported. The result is that some addresses inaccurately show sex offenders residing there.
By contrast, the Allen County Sheriff’s Department rightly removed the names of Wallace offenders, averting a cluttered list that residents can’t rely on.
Cpl. Mike Smothermon, one of three sheriff’s department employees overseeing the Allen County registry, said the intent of the law was to notify the public when an offender moves into a neighborhood. The intent is compromised when the information isn’t dependable.
Accuracy is absolutely our goal here, the detective said. The integrity of the information is our first priority.
The Allen County list is meticulously maintained, with law enforcement officers from the county, Fort Wayne and New Haven routinely participating in visits to make sure offenders live where they say they do.
It’s not an easy task; offenders move frequently.
Because Smothermon knows residents won’t routinely check the registry, he encourages them to sign up for email notification. Just more than 3 percent of Allen County households have done so, the highest percentage in the state.
He credits Sheriff Ken Fries for making the registry a priority and for providing the resources needed to ensure its accuracy. He also cites the OffenderWatch software program that allows the system to be updated instantly and for officers throughout the state to share information when offenders relocate.
When lawmakers meet this summer to address the statewide system, Smothermon and Cpl. Jeff Shimkus, who also helps maintain the registry, hope there will be suggestions from law enforcement, judicial representatives and treatment providers. A bill in the last session would have required law enforcement to continue posting the names of nonviolent offenders even after the requirement to update their addresses ends, eventually burdening the list with useless information.
We have to make sure it’s not a knee-jerk reaction to pass a new law, Shimkus said. We’ve got to come up with rules that make sense.