Officials weigh safety of public against offenders’ rights

By Maria Papadopoulos and Justin  Graeber
Posted Apr  11, 2012 @ 06:00 AM
Last update  Apr 11, 2012 @ 07:03 AM
MIDDLEBORO —A man in Middleboro often gives away toys by leaving them on his front lawn,  near the mailbox.

Every time he does, residents flood the Middleboro Police Department with  phone calls – that’s because the man is a registered sex offender.

But Middleboro Police  Chief Bruce Gates  has the same response for the callers – there is nothing he can do, because the  man has committed no crime.

“That’s not an arrestable offense,” he said of the toys. “Is it ethically or  morally proper? Absolutely not.”

Gate’s dilemma raises two questions: Does having the registry make the public  safer or does it unfairly target sex offenders? Local law enforcement officials  say the law – which requires sex offenders to register with the local police  department – does protect people, but some residents are more ambivalent, and a  defense lawyer said the rules can punish people who’ve already paid their debt  to society.

“If someone does not register according to the statute, we’re very proactive  in arresting them immediately,” Brockton Police Chief Emanuel Gomes said  Thursday. “We work very quickly to track people down.”

Brockton displays photos of all Level 3 sex offenders – those deemed most  likely to offend again – on the wall of the station’s lobby, “so people can  protect themselves and protect their children,” Gomes said.

To learn about other offenders – those classified as Level 1 or 2 – residents must ask.

Other departments, such as Raynham, also have the photos posted, but many  departments don’t display the photos, instead providing the information when  asked, or referring people to the state sex offender registry website.

“We want the residents to know who these people are,” Gomes said.

Brockton, with 63 Level 3 offenders alone, has one detective assigned solely  to tracking sex offenders in the city, police Lt. Paul Bonanca said.

“Knowledge is power. We feel as though the information being disseminated is  certainly a public advantage,” Bonanca said.

But defense attorney Joseph Krowski Jr. said the sex offender registry is  not fair to the people it lists, who have either already served their sentence  or have been placed on probation.

“An aspect of that is rehabilitation and reintegrating (the offenders) into  society,” Krowski said. “The registry program runs counter to that (goal) as  presently constructed.”

Krowski said there is a “huge” problem with homeless offenders not being able  to register.

Krowski also does not believe the registry makes people safer. Studies have  shown that most sexual crimes committed to children are done by a family or  household member or someone known to the family, he said, and “in that regard,  the sexual offender registry has little or no impact.”

Some local residents welcome the information and wish it were easier to  access.

Jay Tocci, shopping at the Target in Easton, said she wished the information  was better publicized.

“It would make me feel better if it was more public and more open,” she said. “But it’s good to have the info there.”

Kristen Dunmead, of Easton, said she had looked up the registry years ago,  before her kids were born.

“It does make me feel safer,” she said, but added that she recently bought a  house in Easton, but hadn’t checked the neighborhood before doing so on the  registry.

Many police departments keep track of their community’s offenders. In many  suburban police departments, a sergeant is assigned to do so.

“They have to come in annually and be fingerprinted and have photos taken,” said Middleboro’s Chief Gates. His town has  31 Level 2 offenders and eight Level 3 offenders.

Gates believes the registry’s existence helps keep the public safer.

“I think it does help,” he said. “It’s a lot better than the public not  knowing anything. And I think they ought to know.”

Raynham police records keeper Jeff Finch says Raynham is luckier than some  towns because, of the 16 registered sex offenders in town, all but one are  homeowners. The Level 3 offenders’ photos are posted at the station.

“We’re fortunate that we have none at our apartment complexes,” Finch  said.

But Finch said it is rare that residents inquire about the lists.

Enterprise Staff Reporter Amy Carboneau contributed to this  report.

How the Sex Offender Registry Board works

  • The state’s Sex Offender Registry has been operational since October 1996.  The Sex Offender Registry Board is responsible for maintaining a computerized  database of convicted sex offenders and, after a hearing, classifying the  dangerousness of each offender. The aim is to provide the public with  information about dangerous sex offenders who live or work in each community.  The Sex Offender Registry Board says its goal is to educate the public and to  prevent further victimization.
  • The Sex Offender Registry Board classifies people convicted of any one of  more than 25 sex crimes. Level 3’s are considered the most dangerous and at high  risk to reoffend. Level 2’s are at moderate risk, and Level 1’s are at low  risk.
  • Pictures and personal information about Level 3’s are available on the  board’s website, searchable by name and community. Information on Level 2’s in a  community can be obtained through the local police department (you have to go  and ask), while Level 1 data is not released to the public.
  • The system the board uses to determine the dangerousness of an individual  is based primarily on 24 factors that have been approved by the state Supreme  Judicial Court. The factors include evidence of substance abuse, response to  treatment, the victim impact statement, the age of the offender when the offense  occurred, the relationship between the offender and the victim, and whether the  victim was a child. Age of the offender at the time of classification is not  listed in those factors, but board officials say they consider it. Sexual  offenders over the age of 60 are generally considered less likely to commit  similar crimes again than younger offenders.
  • The Sex Offender Registry Board consists of seven people appointed by the  governor for terms of six years, with the exception of the chairman. Board  members “shall devote their full time during business hours to their official  duties.” State law says the board must include “one person with experience and  knowledge in the field of criminal justice who shall act as chairman; at least  two licensed psychologists or psychiatrists with special expertise in the  assessment and evaluation of sex offenders and who have knowledge of the  forensic mental health system; at least one licensed psychologist or  psychiatrist with special expertise in the assessment and evaluation of sex  offenders, including juvenile sex offenders, and who has knowledge of the  forensic mental health system; at least two persons who have at least five years  of training and experience in probation, parole or corrections; and at least one  person who has expertise or experience with victims of sexual abuse. Members  shall be compensated at a reasonable rate subject to approval of the secretary  of administration and finance. The chairman of the Sex Offender Registry Board  is the chief executive in charge of the operation of the registry and can be  removed by the governor at any time.”

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