Editorial: In New York, sex offender laws limited

Gwen Chamberlain

Knock knock

Who's there?

You might not want to know

How can we live in a free society, yet keep close tabs on someone who has the potential to harm someone else?

When we think of convicted sex offenders, we know there is a massive database maintained by state officials that documents the primary residence of anyone who has been convicted of a sex crime.

But did you know of the 25,000  people on the existing searchable list, only 4,000 to 5,000 are under specific supervision (parole or probation)?

That leaves a large number of people who have been convicted of sexual offenses who are minimally monitored in the best of situations, not to mention people who have never been convicted of an offense, but who may be a threat.

And there's yet another dimension to this very complicated issue.

If someone is listed on the sex offender registry (http://criminaljustice .state.ny.us/nsor/search_index.htm), the offender is listed for his or her permanent residence only.

So, what if an individual has a vacation home to visit periodically? Or what if the offender frequently travels or visits other locations — perhaps an out-of-town family member?

According to John Caher, director of public information for the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, an individual who is listed on the sex offender registry is required to notify the division of a change of address if he or she is leaving the permanent residence "for a significant time."

The registry will be updated, and the public will be aware of the change — as long as they consult the registry.

But if someone is only going out of town for the weekend and they notify the division of criminal justice, as required, the division does not update the registry. However, Caher says, the division will notify the local law enforcement agency where the person will be visiting.

Yates County Sheriff Ron Spike and Undersheriff Jack Gleason, who have participated in statewide conferences and trainings on the registry, say they don't recall receiving such notifications. (Yet there is one Ontario County resident who is required by probation officials to report to Yates County law enforcement whenever he visits.)

Gleason says there are two ways the addresses may change on the registry:

- If someone moves, the offender must report to the law enforcement agency in their new jurisdiction, which then notifies the division of criminal justice.

- Through the annual address verification.

The registry system does not document addresses other than the permanent address.  So what about campers, cottagers and vacationers? Remember, we're only discussing New York State residents, too.

Maybe no one in this kind of situation has visited the area for a weekend, but that seems rather unlikely. And it's just as unlikely that we would ever know.

Editorial written by Gwen Chamberlain of The Chronicle-Express in Penn Yan, N.Y.