Kootenai County Prosecutor Bill Douglas will push a bill next spring that would let cops pass out fliers or advertise when sex offenders move into an Idaho neighborhood.
Law enforcement should have the authority to release names, photographs, criminal history and other information on sex offenders when necessary, he said.
“We have a right to know when a predator moves into the neighborhood,” he said. “Now, we’re hamstrung.”
Sex offenders now must register with the sheriff before moving to an Idaho county or face additional prison time. Kootenai County has 98 registered sex criminals. However, citizens can’t find out if a neighbor is a sex offender unless they have his name, birth date and Social Security number.
“If you know that much about a person, you probably already know his history,” said sheriff’s Capt. Ben Wolfinger.
Douglas’ proposal must first go through the Law Enforcement Coordinating Council, made up of law enforcement officials from around the state. If it gets approval there, then a legislator must sponsor it.
The idea, developed in conjunction with the county’s child abuse task force, is modeled after the notification system in Washington.
There, all information about sex offenders could be released to the public until 1994. Following a court decision, law enforcement now must show a likelihood that the felon is a threat.
Spokane County has about 1,000 registered sex offenders. Recently, the Spokane City Council agreed to scroll faces and criminal histories of the most dangerous on City Cable 5.
That pressure on sex offenders in Washington is even more reason for an Idaho law, Douglas said.
“I’d hate for Idaho to become an island sanctuary for predators,” he said.
Wolfinger said Douglas’ idea has merit, but he’s skeptical.
“It’s a two-edged sword,” he said. “I’d certainly like to know if there was an offender living next to me. But do we cause undue violence on these people by putting their names out?”
Child rapist Joseph Gallardo’s Lynnwood, Wash., home was set afire in 1993 after his planned release from prison was announced. Two Spokane-area child rapists went into hiding after neighborhood protests.
Jack Van Valkenburgh, director of Idaho’s American Civil Liberties Union, said the law would encourage vigilantes and make it less likely that offenders would register.
“These people are criminals,” he said. “They can’t be trusted to abide by the law - particularly when they feel they could be in danger.”
Child abuse task force member David Hunt, a counselor at Borah Elementary, said the risk outweighed the threat to offenders.
“They have a high repeat-offense rate,” he said. “There’s not a lot of success in treating them.”
Douglas pointed to convicted rapist Albert Brooks as an example. Convicted in 1978, he was released from prison in 1986 and moved to Rathdrum, where he lived a quiet life.
“The day after his last parole hearing, he goes to Spokane and commits a series of child rapes,” Douglas said.
Hunt and Van Valkenburgh agree the proposal could go far in the Legislature.
“With the Republicans’ ‘get tough on crime’ mentality, my hope is they’ll see an opportunity to practice what they preach,” Hunt said.