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Sat, March 23

YCSO says sex offender notices to inform, not inflame

Representatives from the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office told a group of about 50 com-munity members this past week that sex offender notifications are to help people protect themselves – not to encourage people to become vigilantes.

Susan Holt, who works in the Sex Offender Division at YCSO where she coordinates the community notifications for Yavapai County, spoke to the assembly.

Holt said the government created the sex offender notification laws after a neighbor raped and killed 7-year-old Megan Kanka in New Jersey in 1994. The federal community notification statute is known as "Megan's Law."

Holt said that Arizona adopted sex offender notification laws in June 1996, adding that only sex offenders convicted after then are subject to the process.

She said there are 350 known sex offenders in the county and 12,000 registered sex offenders in the state.

The process begins when a sex offender leaves prison or jail. After their release, a probation officer assesses their risk to the community – or the likelihood of the person to re-offend. The officer bases the assessment on several criteria, including past behavior, the nature of the crime and a scored evaluation.

Based on the outcome of the assessment, the officer designates what level of risk the sex offender presents to the community. There are three levels, each representing an increasingly serious risk.

Level 1 sex offenders are the lowest risk to the community. While the offenders must register with YCSO, there is no community notification and privacy laws protect the identity of the offender.

Reneé Mascher, who is the adult probation officer supervising the sex offenders in the county, a Level 1 sex offender prompts YCSO to notify the people in the home and maybe next door neighbors with children.

Level 2 sex offenders are more of a risk to the community; Level 3 sex offenders present the greatest risk to the community.

Holt said deputies go door-to-door and hand out fliers that identify the sex offender and their level when they move into an area.

Holt said YCSO cannot dictate where registered sex offenders live, but it can make community members aware of a potential risk.

Mascher told the people at the meeting that most sex offenders know or are family members of their victims.

"Don't focus so much on stranger danger – although that has its place too," she said. "Ninety percent of all child (sexual) abuse cases involve someone they know."

Mascher said to listen to what children say or how they feel about people. She also said to trust intuition.

"If your children are uncomfortable with someone – that's a big sign," she said.

YCSO Surveillance Officer Van Parson said he keeps a watchful eye on the 60 sex offenders he supervises.

He said many of them are working hard to live productive lives.

"We actually, truly do want to help some of these people," he said. "A lot of these people are busting their tails to do the right thing."

Parson also said YCSO has a zero-tolerance policy. If the sex offender violates probation, there are immediate consequences.

"We have a zero-tolerance," he said. "We're on top of it."

YCSO Lt. Andy Bacon said he does not think the notification process should spread paranoia or encourage people to take the law into their own hands.

"The reason these notifications are made is not so the community can become vigilantes," he said. "It's to raise awareness."

Bacon also said that YCSO relies upon community involvement to help keep neighborhoods safe. He said the strict budget YCSO adheres to does not provide for enough officers to police every area, all of the time.

"Policing and keeping the community safe is everybody's responsibility," Bacon said.

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