OLYMPIA – After six months of knocking on doors, police across the state say they’ve verified the addresses of more than 13,000 of Washington’s 18,000 registered sex offenders.
They’ve also arrested more than 200 for allegedly lying about where they lived.
At Gov. Chris Gregoire’s request, the state last year set aside $5 million to pay for sheriff’s deputies and police officers to make sure that sex offenders are where they say they are. The highest-risk ones, level 3s, are checked every three months. The lowest risk, level 1s, are checked annually. The plan is to have everyone checked by June.
“In the past, level 1 offenders were typically sent a letter to verify their address,” said Mike Harum, Chelan County sheriff. “Today we actually make face-to-face contact with those individuals to make sure they’re living where they’re supposed to be.”
Harum said his county got $100,000, which was enough to hire a deputy to check on sex offenders full time. A dozen have been arrested, he said.
For the state, “this is kind of putting your money where your mouth is,” said Thurston County Sheriff Dan Kimball.
In Spokane County, nearly 80 percent of registered sex offenders are level 1s. More than two-thirds of those committed crimes against children.
The state push was prompted by the abduction, rape and murder of 12-year-old Zina Linnik from her Tacoma neighborhood as she watched Fourth of July fireworks in 2007. A 42-year-old level 1 sex offender named Terapon Adhahn was later charged with the crime.
With more than 1,400 registered sex offenders, Spokane County last year got $275,000 of the state money to hire detectives and a clerk.
Gregoire is pushing for the money to continue, saying that even in a tight budget time, it’s clearly worthwhile to keep an eye on sex offenders. She also wants to continue a $321,000 Web site, ml.waspc.org, that allows people to easily search for local sex offenders and register for e-mail alerts if one moves into the neighborhood.
“Unfortunately, we can’t guarantee everyone’s safety 100 percent. In the end, evil people will continue to do evil things,” said Don Pierce, director of Washington’s association of sheriffs and police chiefs.
But he said Washington’s approach – verify addresses, have risk-based prison sentences and focus on electronic monitoring for the riskiest when they’re released – seems to work better than just putting tracking devices on all sex offenders. California, he said, is discovering that trying to track everyone is extremely expensive and spreads enforcement thinly.
“You put GPS on everybody and you will get mediocrity in terms of monitoring, you just will,” Gregoire said.
Repeat sex offenders today get “determinate-plus” prison sentences, under which a person can be held for life if deemed too dangerous to release.