E-mail Will Alert State Residents When Sex Offenders Move Nearby

By Joseph Turner
The News Tribune

July 14, 2008

Washington residents will soon be notified by e-mail if they want to know when a sex offender moves into their neighborhood. As part of an overhaul of the statewide sex offender registry, the state is setting up a system that features real-time updates for newly registered offenders and lets residents sign up to be notified if an offender moves nearby.

Meanwhile, Pierce County will be getting $437,000 of the $5 million the Legislature is giving to local authorities to verify that sex offenders really are living where they say they are when they register with local sheriff’s departments.

The changes to the registry and the address verification program were among recommendations made late last year by Gov. Chris Gregoire’s task force on sex offenders. The task force was created after the kidnapping and killing of 12-year-old Zina Linnik in Tacoma last July by a sex offender.

Don Pierce, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, said the new Internet registry and notification system could be operating in two to three months.

The association operates a Web site that lists the locations of sex offenders whom the justice system considers most likely to commit more crimes. There are nearly 20,600 sex offenders registered with the State Patrol, which maintains the statewide registry.

More than 2,700 of them are registered in Pierce County.

The state is hiring Watch Systems, a Louisiana company, to install a Web-based system called Offender Watch. The system will cost $321,000 to install and operate the first year, and $288,000 each year thereafter.

"Once it’s up and running, you can ask to be notified if a sex offender moves within a mile of your house," Pierce said.

Offender Watch will allow faster dissemination of information on sex offenders, he said. Under the current system, sex offenders report to a local sheriff’s office, which records their address and reporting requirements. That information is then passed on to the State Patrol, which gives most of that information to post on the association’s Web site.

The new system will allow local deputies to access the registry directly from a local computer and post information immediately, he said.

Mike Cormaci, president of Watch Systems, said his company provides similar services to 500 sheriff’s offices in 38 states. It has a mapping feature that lets authorities know if a sex offender’s address is too close to a school or a day care – a restriction in Washington – or if it’s even a real address.

"A lot of times, an offender will give an address that doesn’t exist," Cormaci said. "We will be able to determine whether it’s a Burger King or a residence."

The software also automatically alerts another law enforcement agency if, for instance, an offender moves from Pierce County to King County, and will keep a log of all residence verification visits, he said. The sheriff’s association also is in charge of handing out money to local authorities so they can send officers to verify in person that sex offenders are living where they say they are, and whether they are truly homeless, as many say they are, or are secretly living somewhere else. State law requires sex offenders to register with their local sheriff’s office when they get out of prison. Homeless offenders are supposed to report once a week.

Of the 2,785 registered sex offenders in Pierce County, 100 say they are homeless.

About 500 are categorized as Level 3 or Level 2 offenders, which means they are considered likely to commit more crimes.

Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor said it would take $1.2 million to do the job right. That’s about three times what the state is giving the county.

"I wish it were more, and to do it right, it probably would be more," Pastor said. "But the governor is the only one in this case who stepped forward and provided any money. She provided resources, not just rhetoric."

Pierce County is getting 9 percent of the money but has 13.5 percent of the state’s registered sex offenders, he noted.

Don Pierce said the program was designed to try to give each county the ability to hire at least one full-time deputy to verify offender addresses.

Pierce County’s application says the county will devote two detectives and a clerk full time. Tacoma will devote two detectives full time, and Lakewood will devote a half-time detective.

Wolfgang Opitz, deputy director of Gregoire’s budget office, said the governor plans to ask the Legislature for an additional $5 million for each of the next two years to maintain the verification program, and money to keep the new sex offender registry.

So far, 27 of 39 counties have applied for state funds to verify offender addresses. Each county will be required to check on Level III offenders every three months, Level II offenders every six months and Level I offenders once a year.

Joseph Turner: 360-786-1826 or


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