Baltimore - By DALE MCFEATTERS
Scripps Howard News Service
The United States has approximately 700,000 convicted sex offenders, a number that is on course to reach 1 million. Although they are supposed to register with local authorities, at any given time about 100,000 are unaccounted for.
Sometimes it’s just a mix up in paperwork and the offender is quickly located but often it’s for more sinister reasons -- the offender is lying about his whereabouts or the offender has gone off the grid altogether.
Others game the system by seeking out jurisdictions known for lax oversight or taking advantage of differing time limits to register by moving back and forth between states. Others exploit gaps in the communications among the 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the U.S.
These unaccounted for offenders are worrisome. Eric Anderson, a deputy U.S. marshal based in Arizona, told Scripps Howard News Service reporter Isaac Wolf, “These guys are dangerous. They have a sexual appetite that can only be satisfied by going after who they deem to be sexually arousing -- such as kids, minors, toddlers, infants -- and doing it by rape. When they want sex, they want it then.”
Almost 1 out of 8 fugitive offenders have multiple arrest warrants; some have dozens. Two recent apprehensions had 35 warrants each.
State and local laws require convicted sexual predators to register with local law enforcement officials, and since the 2006 Adam Walsh Act the U.S. Marshals Service has been tasked with helping them verify addresses and hunt down absconders.
Using a Freedom of Information request, SHNS’ Wolf obtained records from the Marshals’ Justice Detainee Information System and found encouraging evidence of a faster, tighter, more efficient system of tracking sex offenders.
And it is paying off. In 2007, marshals arrested 2,221 offenders on registration violations; this year they are on track for 4,500. Part of the increase is due to the improvement in tracking offenders who move across state lines.
By the end of this year, the Marshals Service will have tripled, to 100, the number of fulltime agents hunting down AWOL sex offenders. They now have real-time access to sex offender records in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center.
And the Justice Department is working with state and local law enforcement to implement uniform standards for oversight of sex offenders.
The tracking is more than a paper exercise. Said Tom Henman, the U.S. marshal in charge of the Child Predator Apprehension Team in Arizona, said, “They could be up to no good, stalking another child. You never know.” For the child’s sake, we need to know.
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