Sex offender awareness: Notices meant to inform, not frighten
There are at least 57 registered sex offenders living within town limits of Prescott and Prescott Valley, according to the state's official sex offender notification Web site.
But the site only lists those sex offenders who have registered, and then only those designated as level 2 and level 3 because these are the only levels that require public notification.
In June of 1996 Arizona adopted its version of "Megan's Law," which includes a community notification process when a sex offender is released from jail or prison, or when they are on probation.
When a sex offender moves into the county, or within 10 days of conviction, they must register with the sheriff of the county where they are going to live.
Once identified, an assessment is done to determine his or her risk factor, and the offender is assigned a level between 0 and 3.
What that level represents is the risk of reoffending. A zero, which is the lowest level, requires registration only, and no community notification. Level 1 is a low risk to the community. Level 2 is an intermediate risk to the community. Level 3 is a high risk.
Members of the sheriff's department who have certified sex offender assessment training assign levels based on information about the offender's case and his or her behavior while incarcerated.
Regardless of what level of risk is originally assigned, the local chief of police has the authority, by state law, to change the level up or down as circumstances or observed behavior may dictate.
The notification process may include neighborhood fliers distributed to homes or public schools and notices sent to the local media.
It's important to emphasize the purpose of fliers and media notices. Law enforcement agencies are not trying to instill fear in the community. They are just trying to inform -- because an informed community is a safer community.
For parents, the sex offender notifications are one more tool to help them protect their family. It's about awareness and education so that when our children are playing outside we know who our neighbors are.
Some people believe this registration law is unfair - that it creates a label that unjustly follows a convicted offender long after they have paid their debt to society. But considering what is at risk - our children - I believe it is a process that doesn't need to be fair. Especially considering that recidivism rates for sex offenders can range from 5 percent to more than 50 percent. Parents have the right to be concerned that offenders may repeat their crime.
And while the notification law is designed to help parents exercise basic safety precautions, it should not be abused.
One concern stated on the State's Sex Offender Info Center Web site is citizens trying to threaten, intimidate, or harass a sex offender in order to force them out of their neighborhood. This behavior is considered criminal activity. These individuals should have a chance to live a normal, productive life.
For more information log on to the Department of Public Safety Sex Offender Info Center Web site at www.azsexoffender.com.
What is Megan's Law?
Megan Kanka was 7 years old when a twice-convicted sex offender, living across the street from her home, brutally raped and murdered her. The crime occurred in New Jersey. In 1994, Governor Christine Todd Whitman signed "Megan's Law" requiring convicted sex offenders to register with local police. The law further establishes a system of notification to the public. President Clinton signed the law in May 1996.
Sex offender facts and characteristics
• Arizona has approximately 11,000 registered sex offenders.
• Sex offenders come from all walks of life and from all socio-economic groups. They can be male or female, rich or poor, employed or unemployed, religious or non-religious, educated or uneducated, and from any race.
• Although some sex offenders are strangers and stalkers, many know the victim as a family member, friend, or neighbor. They win a child's trust and then take advantage of that trust.
• Potential victims are likely to be children who are poor, neglected, loners or runaways.
• Many pedophiles seek out mothers of single parent families for the purpose of victimizing children.
• Sex offenders often like playgrounds and other places where children congregate.
• Most sex offenders groom their victims prior to any crime.
Source: Arizona Department of Public Safety