Law enforcement agencies work together to track non-compliant sex offenders

'Not a catchall'

The Alaska State Troopers issued an arrest warrant for Roger R. Gonzales on Aug. 20. Gonzales, who was convicted Feb. 27, 1996 for first-degree sexual abuse of a minor, registered his address as 25842 Susan Drive in Kasilof. He was not living at that location, however.

 

Gonzales is one of many individuals on the Kenai Peninsula registered with Alaska’s Sex Offender and Child Kidnapper Registry. Local, state and federal agencies work together to ensure those offenders follow their conditions of release from prison, but the system for tracking non-compliant offenders is not a catchall, authorities said.

“(Registered sex offenders) have requirements they’re supposed to live by,” said troopers’ spokeswoman Megan Peters. “If it’s discovered that they aren’t following the requirements — that’s when law enforcement steps in.”

The registry acts as a clearinghouse, she added. It gathers information, fills out paperwork and registers individuals. When someone is approaching a renewal period, the registry sends out reminders, too.

The state can charge non-compliant offenders with first- or second-degree failure to register as a sex offender or child kidnapper. Failing to register is also a federal crime due to the Adam Walsh Act, but federal charges are not always pursued. The severity of a non-compliant offender’s charges depends upon the circumstances — officers may grant forgetful non-compliant offenders leeway if the registered address is correct and they could not renew for some reason, but if a person is intentionally trying to stay off the radar, felony charges are handed down, authorities said.

Non-compliance consists of more serious offenses, like living next to a school or working with children, depending on the person’s original charges; it also consists of less serious infractions, like registering an online email address without informing the registry.

Updates are regularly sent out to local law enforcement agencies. The troopers investigated Gonzales’s whereabouts after receiving an address verification request from the registry, which operates out of Anchorage.

On Aug. 19, Sgt. Robert Hunter with the troopers visited Gonzales’s given address, which was registered on July 20. Hunter showed a picture to the property’s current occupant, who said he recognized Gonzales from Bean’s Café in Anchorage. Later, Hunter spoke with the property’s owner. Gonzales had not lived there since he was arrested for assault in early July, the owner told troopers.

Gonzales was picked up in Anchorage on the outstanding warrant; his trial is set for Nov. 26 at the Kenai Courthouse. The state previously convicted Gonzales for failure to register on June 20.

There are 82 registered sex offenders on the Central Peninsula, according to the Clarion’s count based on information available on the registry’s website. The entire registry contains 2,995 entries.

Gonzales is the not the only person on the Central Peninsula to be charged with failure to register this year.

Offenders are not tracked, said Kenai Police Lt. Dave Ross. They are expected to follow court orders and update their information accordingly.

Police officers also contact registered individuals during routine work. If someone is pulled over, their name is put into a database, and some come back as non-compliant. Dispatch informs the officer, and an investigation ensues.

“And the officers check up on the registry and realize someone they’ve had contact with in the past isn’t living where they’re supposed to be living,” Ross said. “We catch them through various means, but our job isn’t to track them.”

Peters agrees. It is not uncommon for the troopers to receive calls on Halloween, she said.

“People call us and say ‘what are you doing about all the sex offenders on Halloween?’ … It’s not all one category of offenders,” Peters said. “If a sex offender is required to stay away from kids, he’s not going to answer his door on Halloween. (The troopers) are not going to round them up and have a slumber party.”

During the past two years, the United States Marshals Service has increased its efforts of checking up on registered sex offenders. The service employs a full-time staff member whose job is tracking down non-compliant offenders.

The Adam Walsh Act was passed in 2006. The act is named for the 6-year-old who was kidnapped at a mall near his Florida home and found murdered two weeks later. It calls for all states to conform to various aspects of sex offender registration, and the Marshals perform missions pursuant to the act, including assisting other authorities in the apprehension or location of non-compliant offenders.

“I’m in contact daily with the state’s registry,” said Lisa Norbert, senior inspector for the Sex Offender Investigations Branch of the U.S. Marshals.

The Marshals began their efforts six years ago, but did so part time. Recent efforts include three statewide operations involving many state agencies, and the troopers have been highly involved.

In May 2011, the Marshals and the troopers finished a five-month joint operation called “Operation Verification.” It resulted in 1,910 of the registered sex offenders’ addresses being verified. In all, 1,651 were in compliance; 137 were in jail for unrelated reasons; 81 offenders were out of compliance, and they were either arrested or had warrants issued for their arrest; and 41 were not located at the time.

A similar operation had never been conducted for the entire state before Verification, Norbert said.

“The majority of people were found to be in compliance, meaning they were living at the address they provided,” she said. “(Operation Verification) allowed us the opportunity to go out and make contact with everybody who is currently registered.”

An ongoing joint initiative is “Operation Last Frontier.” The initiative began in 2010, and the law enforcement’s efforts have resulted in more than 500 compliance checks during the past two years in Western Alaska.

Although Western Alaska is the current focus, checks occur periodically in other area’s of the state. Checks were performed two weeks ago in Anchorage, Norbit said.

Part of the reason the Marshals are focusing on Western Alaska is they have established a sound relationship with the troopers’ C-detachment. Other trooper detachments have reached out to the Marshals seeking similar sex-offender-related initiatives. And the Marshals plan to expand in the near future, Norbert said.

Local methods for apprehending non-compliant offenders are effective, Ross said.

“What’s available is effective. We know who’s out of compliance,” he said. “Do we know where every sex offender is at every moment, or exactly which ones are re-offending? No. It’s not a perfect system. But it’s not expected that they be monitored on a daily basis. They’re expected to register.”

Sex offenders on probation are monitored more closely, he added.

Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at jerzy.shedlock@peninsulaclarion.com.

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