06 February 2010
Sex Offenders Underground
(Photograph copyright 2010, all rights reserved.)
Some days, I open the morning paper - in my case the Chicago Tribune online - take a casual glance and suddenly can't even turn away long enough to sip my coffee. I'm sure we've all had that experience. Every once in a while, something hits you like a tone of bricks and it's like a train wreck, you just can't look away.
This morning's headline was Unregistered Sex Offenders Roam Chicagoland . (Ok. The Tribune sucks at this.They'll take you to an error page instead of the article. Lame. Just go to the front page and you'll see the headline.) It seems like a pretty sensational headline, doesn't it? Something you might see on a grocery store tabloid, not a "real" newspaper. I read the article and got myself an education today.
According to the Trib:
- There are almost 800 sex offenders in the Chicago area who have been missing for more than a month. (This means that they registered an address at the time they were paroled, then moved/left/went underground.)
- No arrest warrants were issued for more than 80% of them.
- Of those offenders with previous criminal convictions, no warrants were issued for 90%.
- Police are hit and miss on searching for these folks. For example, they don't check to see if the offender is still alive. In one case, they ignored Social Security when they notified police that an unregistered sex offender was receiving payments at a certain location.
Between mid-December of 2009 and mid-January of 2010;
- Chicago ALONE had 591 sex offenders missing in that time period.
- In the entire region including Chicago, there are 771 missing offenders.
- Only 135 arrest warrants have been issued for the entire region.
- Even during traffic stops, where the in-car computer system TELLS the police that the person they've stopped is a missing or unregistered sex offenders, MOST of them are never arrested.
The article goes on, citing various cases including one offender that was recently arrested for repeatedly sexually assaulting a 14 year old girl.
It's a mess. The police don't want to make arrests without warrants. Individual officers are told not to make arrests by their superiors. The courts are reluctant to issue warrants because full jails are very expensive and judges are elected officials (an idiocy about which I will rant at another time). This is not strictly an Illinois problem. Several other states are in the same fix. In ALL of those states, sex offenders are merrily offending, safe in the knowledge that no one is even going to come and look for them.
The article concludes with the announcement that the federal government is looking into this and threatening to withhold grant money from states that don't clean up their act in the near future.
Why was I so shocked? Like a lot of people, I hadn't even considered that this kind of crappy enforcement was going on. I figured that sex offenders were automatically registered before they got out of prison (they aren't - they have to register THEMSELVES after they're released), and that law enforcement, even if they didn't watch them every second, could at least find them if necessary. Another illusion blown, right?
So, what do you think? Have you heard anything about this where you live? How long do you think it's going to take states and municipalities to get a grip on this problem?
Inquiring minds and all that.