OLYMPIA – Trying to convince sex offenders that they have nowhere to hide, state and local officials on Monday launched a sweep to locate and arrest those who fail to register or otherwise break the rules.
“They will be held accountable, to the full extent of the law,” said Gov. Chris Gregoire, who’s offered to tap the state treasury for $100,000 in police overtime for what’s being called “Operation Crackdown.”
The sweeps start in the Spokane region next week, according to Gregoire. Among those taking part: state Department of Corrections officials, U.S. marshals and local law enforcement.
“They’ve been working to compile some good information and intelligence” about sex offenders with arrest warrants, said Don Pierce, executive director of the Washington State Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.
In the first hours of the effort Monday, such “multi-jurisdictional units” arrested three wanted sex offenders in the Yakima area.
Sweeps also took place Monday in King County and will expand to Chelan and Douglas counties later this week.
The tracking teams are looking for sex offenders wanted on warrants, often for refusing to register, giving a false address, or moving and failing to inform officials. Many are homeless.
They were looking for 33 people in Chelan County and 31 in King County.
“We’re trying to make the point to them that we’re not going to play games,” said King County Sheriff Sue Rahr. If they’re falsely saying they’re homeless in a bid to avoid registration, she said, “it’s not going to work.”
Warrants for failing to register are typically issued by local law enforcement.
Warrants for other violations – like failing to check in with a probation officer – are issued by the Department of Corrections. The department has eight outstanding warrants for sex offenders in Spokane County and none in Whitman, Stevens, Pend Oreille or Ferry counties. Statewide, the department has more than 90 outstanding arrest warrants for sex offenders, Pierce said, most in King County.
Gregoire said the public expects law enforcement to be tracking sex offenders. The statewide sweep will last two months, she said, and be repeated as needed.
The governor said the crackdown is one aspect in a larger push by state and local officials. Among the others: ensuring that the state DNA database has samples from every possible sex offender, as well as expanding electronic monitoring to 150 of the worst sex offenders living in communities. Because of legal restrictions, the state initially thought it could only order electronic monitoring for sex offenders who committed crimes in 2006 or later. Gregoire said Monday that a new opinion from Attorney General Rob McKenna pushes that back to 2001 and in some cases 2000.
In King and Chelan counties, most of those being sought are level 1 offenders, judged least likely to reoffend.
It was a level 1 sex offender – 42-year-old Terapon Adhahn – who allegedly kidnapped, raped and murdered 12-year-old Zina Linnik on the Fourth of July. The high-profile search and arrest fueled calls for reform, including from a task force assembled by Gregoire.
“We haven’t had the resources to spend much time really concentrating on the level 1’s,” said Pierce. “They’re the ones that have in a sense kind of skated. Now they know they’re on the radar screen.”
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