A Tacoma girl’s rape and murder by a level 1 sex offender – the group considered least likely to re-offend– caused Washington officials to rethink how sex offenders should be monitored.
Laws long have allowed authorities to track sex offenders through address registration. But state, city and county authorities haven’t been able to afford the manpower to keep tabs on these offenders, said Joanna Arlow, policy director for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.
Starting this week, Spokane police and Spokane County sheriff’s detectives will be going door to door to verify addresses of level 1 sex offenders, thanks to a state grant to the county.
Of more than 1,200 sex offenders in Spokane County, 79.6 percent are level 1s. About 67 percent of the convictions were crimes against children.
“I think it’s critical to do this,” said Spokane police Detective Bill Marshall, a veteran sex crimes detective who will visit offenders. “It doesn’t do any good to have laws on the books if you can’t enforce them.”
Although they may have been convicted of child rape or other crimes, level 1 sex offenders are believed to pose the lowest risk to the community, state officials say. A sex offender’s status is determined by the person’s potential to commit another crime; as they re-offend, the level goes up.
In the past, the addresses of level 1 offenders were confirmed through mailed letters or a patrol officer checking the home, but only as time permitted in most counties.
Resources were focused on the worst convicts: level 3 offenders, who are considered sexual predators.
Changes in how sex offenders are tracked were the product of a task force appointed by the governor’s office last year following 12-year-old Zina Linnik’s death. The girl was abducted from her backyard, according to a report from Operation Crackdown.
Terapon Adhahn, convicted in Linnik’s murder, was a level 1 offender whom police had lost track of. Authorities think if they’d verified his address, they may have been able to prevent what happened.
This summer, money was allocated to each Washington county based on the number of registered sex offenders, Arlow said. Spokane County, which had a total of 1,510 sex offenders when the three-year, renewable grant was awarded, received $275,000 for a city and a county detective and one clerical position. The Spokane Police Department and the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office now have three sex offender detectives each.
As of two weeks ago, the city of Spokane had 909 sex offenders, 691 of whom were the lowest level, police Lt. Dave McGovern said. “We are actively seeking 48 level 1s. We know where our level 3 and level 2s are at.”
Spokane County outside the city limits had 497 sex offenders in mid-October, 426 of whom were level 1. Not one is currently being sought.
With two full-time detectives, “they are running their butts off trying to keep track of all these guys,” Spokane County Sheriff’s Sgt. Dave Van Wormer said.
The new detectives will verify addresses once a year, making face-to-face contact with at least two level 1 offenders each day. The third county detective will help register all sex offenders, which is the Sheriff’s Office’s responsibility.
In addition, DNA samples will be collected from all offenders, including those yet to register. A law passed last year made it mandatory that all offenders provide DNA for a national database, officials said.
“There are restrictions put on these people by the court and conditions they need to follow,” Marshall said. “Obviously we need to enforce them.”