Monday, July 14, 2014
State police: New monitoring of sex offenders working
Posted: Sunday, July 13, 2014
Pennsylvania has 200 fewer unaccounted-for sex offenders living in the state today than it had six months ago, following the creation of a state police Megan’s Law Compliance Unit.
And in the last six months, more arrest warrants have been filed against offenders suspected of failing to update their addresses and other required information under the state’s sex offender registration laws than were filed in the six months prior to the unit’s creation.
Last month, state police conducted the first-ever spot checks to verify that sex offenders are following the law, which requires them to update personal information in person and be photographed a minimum of once a year. The requirements also apply to nonresidents who work or attend school in Pennsylvania.
“The biggest thing to me is public safety ... By doing this we are going to go out and check on them, which wasn’t done before,” said Lt. Todd Harman. He’s the director of the state police Megan’s Law Unit, which is responsible for registering, monitoring and maintaining the public sex offender registry at www.pameganslaw.state.pa.us.
In Pennsylvania, up to 97 percent of the more than 16,000 registered sex offenders appear to be complying with registration requirements, according to the registry and state police. Until recently, state police didn’t conduct regular status checks beyond the mandatory in-person updates that take place at least annually for 15 years, 25 years or the rest of their lives.
A Calkins Media investigation — started months before a full-time compliance officer was hired earlier this year — found more than a dozen instances where sex offenders were listed as failing to comply with the reporting rules for months before local police were alerted. And it took many months, in some cases, before arrest warrants were issued. Without a warrant, there’s no immediate way for law enforcement to know an offender is suspected of not following the law.
Among long-missing Bucks County offenders, Samuel Lovelace IV was arrested in April and charged with raping a 15-year-old girl in Montgomery County during the four years he was noncompliant with Megan’s Law. The 29-year-old former Bristol Township man awaits trial in Montgomery County Court on rape and related charges.
Lovelace was required to update his information at least twice a year, but hadn’t done so since 2010, according to a criminal complaint. An arrest warrant was issued for the alleged registration violations in July 2013.
The newspaper also found that at least seven local offenders who were listed as noncompliant were incarcerated or had moved out of state. The newspaper’s findings culminated in the two-day series called “Megan’s Lawbreakers” that ran earlier this year. The series revealed the hiring of the full-time compliance officer. Prior to that, compliance monitoring was only one of the duties assigned to state troopers.
In addition to the new monitor position a full-time legal assistant was hired, which are partly funded through $40,000 in new federal money earmarked for states that adopted SORNA.
In late February — before the compliance unit was in place — Pennsylvania had 556 noncompliant sex offenders — or 3.5 percent of the 15,829 registered at the time. As of Friday, there were 336 noncompliant offenders — or 2 percent of the 16,323 registered, according to the state police website.
The number of arrest warrants filed for alleged Megan’s law violations increased from roughly 20 percent of all offenders in February to 32 percent, as of Friday, according to state police registry records.
As of July 11, seven of the 382 registered sex offenders in Bucks County were considered noncompliant and arrest warrants had been filed for five of them. In Montgomery County, 11 of the 618 registered offenders are listed as noncompliant as of Friday, including two who were more than a year overdue to report. One arrest warrant has been filed.
Harman explained that, previously, state and local police would learn about noncompliant offenders after they missed a required update or someone tipped authorities. With the compliance unit in place, Harman said he hopes to conduct more spot checks, particularly in counties with large sex-offender populations.
In its first round of spot checks, state and local police checked 92 homes and workplaces for offenders in Juniata and Mifflin counties over two days. Authorities arrested two men and a third person is being investigated, Harman said. One arrested offender allegedly moved without notifying state police and the other failed to report email and social media accounts, Harman said.
The department is also following up with local police about investigation notices, something that didn’t happen previously because of a lack of manpower, Harman said. In most Pennsylvania towns, local authorities are responsible for enforcing Megan’s Law.
“We want the sex offenders of Pennsylvania to know that if they are not properly registered, we will be checking on you and prosecuting you if we find that out,” Harman said. “You need to make sure you’re in compliance with the law because we could be checking your house next.”