Tuesday, September 29, 2009

OH : Keeping Track of Sex Offenders is Hard

Columbus Dispatch Politics : Homeless offenders a headache - Keeping track hard for sheriff's offices.

Registered sex offenders live in Schiller and Goodale parks in Columbus. Another gives his address as behind Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, while still another stays in an old railroad steam tunnel in Cambridge.
And five live in vehicles parked on the streets of Marietta, from a pair of vans to a purple Dodge Neon.

How are sheriff's offices supposed to obey Ohio law by keeping track of such offenders and notifying neighbors of their presence? Short answer: They can't.

"This is a horrendous problem for us," said Steve Martin, chief deputy with the Franklin County sheriff's office. "We're doing everything that is humanly possible to monitor these people."

But he acknowledges that's difficult for those who don't have a fixed address, such as the homeless. At least 160 people are "homeless" on the state's sex-offender database of more than 18,000 sex offenders, and many more are listed as living in such places as tents or vehicles, or on porches or park benches.

Examples of sex offenders' "homes" from the database: "Dayton Mall area" in Montgomery County; on "Courthouse Square" in Warren; "diversified" in Columbus; in a "Ford Fairmont station wagon" on River Road in Cincinnati; "under bridge by post office" in Newark; "across from Big Lots" on 2nd Street in Ironton; and "garage behind barber shop" on Reading Road in Mason.

Deputies are supposed to tell everyone living within a 1,000-foot radius when a sex offender moves in and monitor the offenders to make sure they keep their addresses current, as required by the law. But keeping track of them is a challenge facing virtually every sheriff's office in Ohio, said Robert Cornwell, director of the Buckeye State Sheriffs Association. "The real challenge comes in verifying that somebody lives someplace like under a bridge," he said. "How often do you go back and check on them to see if they're still living there?"

Martin said deputies met with the Franklin County prosecutor's office earlier this month to explore a possible change in state law. Until then, sex offenders without a permanent fixed address are being asked -- not required -- to check in daily with the sheriff's office.

Deputies struggle with who to notify when a sex offender lives in some place like a park, Martin said. Do they notify everyone around sprawling Schiller Park, for example, about the sex offender who lives there?