Thursday, August 29, 2002

11 sex offenders sought by police

By Jane Prendergast,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati police sex-crimes specialists, on a mission to locate registered sex offenders in Hamilton County, have found that about 30 percent of them don't live at addresses filed with authorities.

        So far, officers working overtime have visited more than 250 of the approximately 600 registered sex offenders in the county. Police have been able to track down most of the convicted offenders living at addresses other than those listed with authorities.

        At least a dozen of them were arrested for failing to register. But at least 11 others have not been located. “We have no way to know if these guys are out committing other crimes,” Sgt. Dave Simpson said. “That's why we have to know where they are.”

        About 500 of the county's registered sex offenders live in the city of Cincinnati, often in halfway houses.

        Cincinnati Police applied for a $117,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice after hearing of a similar program in Dallas. There, the police and sheriff's departments work together on SOAP, the Sex Offender Apprehension Program.

        SOAP started five years ago after Dallas detectives looking through registered sex offenders for suspects in a little girl's rape and murder found that six of the eight possible suspects did not live where they claimed.

        “We have every right to make sure they're following the rules,” said Dallas Police Lt. Bill Walsh. “If no one's ever going out to check, you have stale information available to the public.”

        Under Ohio's version of Megan's Law, the worst sex offenders have to register every 90 days for life. Others do it on their birthdays for either 10 years or 20, depending on the severity of their crimes. They're supposed to notify authorities seven days before moving.

        Police agencies in each municipality track the registered sex offenders, making information available to the public for both the curious and for things as routine as a real-estate sales contract.

        In Hamilton County, the responsibility for tracking offenders falls to the sheriff's office. They're all tracked on the office's website,

        But all that public notification doesn't do any good if the addresses aren't correct, Lt. Walsh said.

        In Dallas, the initial effort to mail certified letters to all the then-1,800 registered offenders found at least a quarter of them not in compliance. “You need to have enforcement,” Lt. Walsh said. “It just makes sense.”

        Cincinnati police supervisors thought the overtime effort would be a good fit for officers in the Personal Crimes Unit because of the offenders' possible connections to their regular work investigating sex crimes.

        They started using the grant money this spring.

        “It's very important for our unit for us to get out and know these people,” said Sgt. Ken Wells. “It's really a benefit to us to have all this information.”

        The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office welcomes the help.

        “The more eyes and ears we have to check on them, the more beneficial it is,” said Sheriff Simon Leis' spokesman, Steve Barnett.

        Cincinnati's hoping to renew the grant if detectives can show positive results.

        Next, Personal Crimes Unit commander Lt. Kim Frey plans to meet with as many judges as she can to ask them to pay close attention to cases of unregistered offenders.

        Failure to register is a felony, but she said judges often do not punish offenders as harshly as they can.

        “We might be biting off more than we can chew — we don't know yet,” she said. “But as a parent and grandparent, I just think we need to be tough on these people.”


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