Missouri says it has lost track of more than 1,200 sex offenders, including hundreds of convicted rapists and child molesters. But the Show Me State is not alone in having this problem.
A new report from State Auditor Nicole Galloway reveals that Missouri can’t account for about 8% of the 16,000 sex offenders required to register with law enforcement in the state. Those unaccounted for include about 800 sex offenders considered to be the most dangerous — people convicted of rape, sodomy or child molestation in the first or second degree. Law enforcement officials in the state haven’t heard from more than half of the unaccounted offenders in over a year.
“What my audit reveals is disturbing,” Galloway said during a news conference in St. Louis on Monday. “Because local law enforcement officials don’t know where these offenders are, that means citizens don’t know where they are either.”
Galloway places most of the blame on what she calls lax enforcement of the sex offender registration requirements by local police agencies. State law requires sex offenders to register their name, address and other info on a regular basis with the chief local enforcement official in their area, which is usually the sheriff. If an offender doesn’t register, an arrest warrant is supposed to be issued, but often that doesn’t happen.
“Statewide, arrest warrants have not been issued for over 91% of unaccounted for registered sex offenders,” Galloway said. “There has not been an effort made to hold them accountable for once again violating the law.”
Galloway said without arrest warrants police officers don’t know if a sex offender they’ve come into contact with needs to be detained.
She also criticized the Missouri State Highway Patrol, saying it needs to do a better job of maintaining the database that funnels information to the website the public uses to keep track of sex offenders.
At least one Missouri law enforcement officer has pushed back on Galloway’s comments. The state mandate to monitor sex offenders didn’t come with any additional funding, Lt. Andy Binder with the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office told CNN affiliate KPLR.
Binder said the only way to make sure registered sex offenders live where they say they do is to have officers go door to door and check, something most departments don’t have the resources for.
Several other states have a similar problem
Two other states that have conducted recent audits of their sex offender registries have discovered similar issues.
In Wisconsin, the state doesn’t have current information for nearly 3,000 of its more than 25,000 registered sex offenders, according to a letter sent in August from the state Legislative Fiscal Bureau to a lawmaker. Most of these offenders are listed as being “non-compliant,” meaning they haven’t mailed back a registration or confirmation letter on time or they’ve failed to update their address in a timely manner.
About 300 of them were listed under the “abscond” status, meaning the offender failed “to make himself or herself available as directed by the (community corrections) agent.”
Last year in Massachusetts, the state didn’t have a current address for 1,769 sex offenders, according to an audit released by State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump. She said Massachusetts’ Sex Offender Registry Board (SORB) needs to be more aggressive in tracking down offenders who are unaccounted for.
“What is needed at SORB is a change of culture and mindset, from one that is passive — managing and processing information that comes to them — to one that is active, in which they seek out information about those who are out of compliance, innovate to overcome challenges they face and take advantage of the tools and resources at their disposal to ensure they meet their mission,” Bump said at a state legislative committee hearing in October 2017.