SEX OFFENDER REGISTRY DRAWS PRAISE, CRITICISM
Daily Gazette/Katy Moeller
There is an official state registry of high-risk sexual offenders that's now available free tothe public on the Internet at criminaljustice.state.ny.us. The site provides names, addresses,photographs, identifying characteristics and criminal histories of a very limited number ofconvicted sex offenders. Louise Roback, director of the Capital Region chapter of the New YorkCivil Liberties Union, is one of the critics who would like to see it yanked. She said, People maybe lulled into a false sense of security that they can identify all possible sex offenders. Itdoesn't serve the interest of protecting the public. Most children are in danger from people thatthey know, rather than a stranger. It's family or friends, generally, who commit sex offensesagainst children in the home. But child advocates insist that parents and others have a right toknow when a convicted sex offender takes up residence nearby. Until recently, concerned citizenshad to visit local police stations or call a 900 number to get information about convicted sexoffenders. Members of Parents for Megan's Law, a Stony Brook based organization formed to helpparents protect their children from sexual predators, hope to see the state's web site expand theirlisting to include 7,269 low-risk (level 1 and 2) sexual offenders in New York and provide detailson every high-risk offender's modus operandi. Right now, in order to gain entry to the state'sonline registry, you must input your full names and complete addresses, the PFML group would likethe public to be able to access all of this information anonymously. According to Laura Ahearn,executive director of Parents for Megan's Law, As far as I know, we are the only state in thenation that is requesting name and address, of the 26 states that have sex offenders registriesonline. I feel that it's a barrier to access. If there are parents out there or community membersor people who have been victimized who want to check on an individual, they might be afraid tobecause they feel their name is being logged somewhere. PFML is maintaining an unofficial versionof the state's high-risk sex offender subdirectory on its own Web site (parentsformeganslaw.com) sothat the public can access the information anonymously. The information on this site is compiled byvolunteers, so the registry is not as up-to-date as the state's. It does list each sex offender'smodus operandi. We feel that information is vitally important, it helps parents understand whatkind of an offender it is. It can be the difference between a person lurking behind a bush ascompared with someone who used coercion...We are talking about modes of operation, how peopleburrow into children's lives, Ahearn said. The warning at the top of every profile on the state'sWeb site warns: Anyone who uses this information to injure, harass or commit a criminal act againstany person may be subject to criminal prosecution. Robert Gangi, executive director of theCorrectional Association of New York, fears that such warnings won't be enough to protect thoselisted in the registry from becoming the target of vigilantes. In some cases, this will drivepeople underground, he said. You might make it more likely for them to commit crimes because theycan't connect with healthy and benign forces in the community and they can't lead stable lives.Ahearn said, Our intent is not to run sex offenders out of the community. If the community wantsthe information, then the community has to use that information responsibly, it's so important tohave the information in the first place; we don't want to lose it. She said Parents for Megan'sLaw educates the public that harassing or abusing those listed in the state's sex offender registryis not only illegal, but counterproductive.
(Albany, New York)