Authorities attempt to engage public on sex offender issues
DICKINSON - Local law enforcement officials hosted a meeting Wednesday to address issues related to sex offenders, but with just two people from the general public in attendance, questions were scarce and concerns were few.
"I really anticipated a larger crowd with the feedback I had been getting throughout the week about this," Dickinson Police Chief Chuck Rummel said. "The information presented was really, really good, and I think a lot of people needed to hear some of these things."
He said the meeting will be aired on cable channel 19 for those who missed it.
The meeting came in the wake of an April 5 article in The Press notifying residents that a high-risk offender had moved to Dickinson.
The meeting, however, focused on offenders in general. Investigator Amanda McNamee, who monitors offenders in the city, gave a presentation explaining laws related to sex offenders.
In North Dakota, when offenders move, they have three days to register with the state through the local law enforcement agency. Otherwise, they can be arrested without a warrant and face a mandatory 90-day imprisonment. All risk levels of sex offenders - low, moderate and high - must register, but the general public is notified only when a high-risk offender moves in. The risk level is a judgment of how likely it is an offender will commit another sex crime, McNamee said.
To register, a sex offender must submit their name, address, school, employment, relation to victim, offense, vehicles owned or operating, computer and Internet information, a photograph, fingerprints and a DNA sample, she said.
McNamee said she meets with the new offenders that come to town and continually verifies their work and home addresses. She checks on high-risk offenders every two weeks, moderate-risk every three months and low-risk every six months.
Every registered sex offender in North Dakota has a "blue book," a history of their past behavior that draws from many sources including court documents, military records, psychiatric evaluations, juvenile histories, criminal records and prison conduct reports, said parole officer Deb Kohler.
"When we take a blue book to the committee, we present this guy's life from start to current date, everything that we know on this individual, and that is run by a team of about 15 people from various agencies across the state. Given the information that's provided at that time, the team will make a decision on how likely this individual is to re-offend," Kohler said.
McNamee said law enforcement agencies in North Dakota cannot prevent a sex offender moving into a certain area.
"Once the offender has served the sentence given to them, neither law enforcement nor the court has the power to tell an offender where to live or work," McNamee said.
Kohler said the community can help prevent an offender from re-offending by getting involved.
"The more that the offender knows that there's people in the community watching them and will be talking to their officer or law enforcement, then the more likelihood they are to stay in the guidelines of their supervision," Kohler said.
Executive Director of Community Action Erv Bren, who works to assist offenders, said property managers have declined lately to rent to sex offenders.
"Basically, nobody wants to deal with them, so they are out on the street. So as a community what are we going to do to address the situation?" he asked.
That problem, McNamee said, was one of the reasons for holding the meeting. She said the department encourages property owners to provide housing for offenders.
"We're hoping that landlords or motel owners will rent to our offender," McNamee said. "If they decide that's not going to happen...that offender can live in their vehicle and register their vehicle as an address and pretty much park wherever they want to park."
Kohler said offenders will often find housing after a period of homelessness, but Dickinson has no way to house them in that interim. She said this is a new problem for the city.
"We just ask the community that if they have anything available that will suit the needs of law enforcement and this individual we ask them to let us know," Kohler said.
The Web site for the North Dakota Office of the Attorney General lists 20 registered sex offenders who reside in Dickinson. The state database of sex offenders can be found at http://sexoffender.nd.gov.