Statement from Reform Sex Offender Laws of Virginia’s director

Posted at 6:23 PM, Apr 06, 2012
and last updated 2012-04-06 18:38:14-04

Complete statement from Reform Sex Offender Laws of Virginia’s Executive Director Mary D. Devoy:

For 3 years the RSOL of VA has asked the General Assembly to give the VSP more funds to fill the vacant Sex Offender Taskforce spots so that the desired 120:1 ratio could finally be achieved. Many Troopers drive over 100 miles from their Barracks to do the mandated offender checks. They also do these checks early in the morning and sometimes late into the evening (9:30PM). The VSP needs more Taskforce members without a doubt, but out-sourcing this task to civilians is not the answer.

The majority I’d say more than 95% of the VSP Troopers on the Sex Offender Taskforce are extremely respectful, professional and try their best to give accurate and current information to the states 19,000+ registered sex offenders. Supporters from across the Commonwealth send me e-mails and letters weekly to relay their good and their bad experiences with these visits.

Our concern is that by hiring civilians to do these checks that “want-a-be” cops who perhaps were unable to meet the requirements of a local or state officer program but have a desire to be in an authority position will jump at this chance to become a “Sex Offender Wrangler/Hunter”.

A visit to an offender’s residence twice a year and place of employment can cause extreme stress and tension in a neighborhood and at the place of employment if not handled properly. The Troopers do their best to not make a scene or cause any unneeded anxiety, to get in and get out. A home or employment visit can easily result in an offender loosing their lease or their job. An offender who has stability of home and employment is an offender who is most likely never going to re-offend. These visits can also include spouses, parents, children, siblings, room-mates, neighbors and co-workers of an offender and we know that when U.S. Marshal’s accompanied VSP Troopers last Halloween to registered offenders homes in 3 areas of the state that many family members and friends were not only shamed by the overzealous display of flack-jackets and weapons but seriously intimidated.  These visits must be handled professionally for the safety of our communities and for the success of the offenders. Their success is society’s success.

Those on the registry and their family members generally answer their doors with great hesitation, if they answer at all. We all live with the knowledge a vigilante can easily map right to our front door. There have been verbal encounters and property damage across the Commonwealth and in other states arson and murders all because a citizen decided anyone listed on the public registry must be a pedophile, a pervert and a predator so why not rid the world of them? Even more sadly, sometimes the fires and killings have been of spouses and cases of mistaken identity. Civilians knocking on an offender’s door will 9 out of 10 times not get an answer.

If a civilian can not verify the offenders information an investigation would need to be opened. It is our understanding a Trooper must do this and so a Trooper would have to go back to the address to confirm there is an issue. That’s double work, two employees checking one address/one offender.

A 2 week training course for a civilian versus the 34 weeks of training for Troopers for a savings of $9,207 per “officer” per year is not worth the savings. For $9,000 more the State could have a qualified Trooper with the training to do anything within the department and across the state. The key to success with this is that the Trooper over time gets to know the person listed and develops a relationship and a level of trust. If the Sex Offender Taskforce members are no longer Troopers and is just a “stepping-stone” to a higher position within the department then these relationships will never develop because there will be a high turn over rate.

Also with extensive training the Troopers are much better equipped to evaluate whether the offender is a real threat or not. This aspect makes this far too important to “farm-out” what amounts to a rent-a-cop. In proposing civilians take over the Troopers duties the Governor’s office has basically acknowledged that these home and employment checks do little to nothing to better protect the public, and as such can be done by just about anyone. Hopefully not a trigger-happy Zimmerman type.

If the state wants to save money when it comes to registered sex offenders lets look at Non-Violent offenders only having to register for 10 years as they did before the 2008 General Assembly that increased it to 15 years. That additional 5 years is 10 home visits, 5 certified letters, 5 re-registrations, 2 photos and however many additional address, phone number, employment, e-mail or vehicle changes occur it those 5 extra years.

Better yet let’s return the thousands of offenders that the 2006 and 2008 General Assembly retroactively re-classified with no due process from Non-Violent to Violent. That increased the state monitoring them from 10 years to either 25 years or for a lifetime. That change also added 3 more certified letters per year for a total of 4 per year and 4 re-registrations per year.

Offenders that were evaluated by the judge who had all the evidence of the case in front of them classified these citizens as Non-Violent but yet the Legislature took it upon themselves to broadly re-classify these people which resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars more being spent every year. Currently 87% of those on the registry are classified as violent. This includes Romeo and Juliet cases as well, as our state does not charge statutory rape for an 18 and a 16 year old they charge rape or carnal knowledge. In states with 3 Tiered risk based classification systems the higher-risk/lifetime offenders are only 18-24% of the entire registry. But yet in the Commonwealth we have 87% in that category, we need to properly classify offenders and direct the resources towards those who truly require extensive monitoring.

No process was even proposed for the 2012 Assembly to properly vote on this civilian  initiative. How can a decision to switch from Troopers to civilians even be made when no one knows how it will work?

The Administration could easily cut costs while still protecting the public but instead of looking at the extreme money wasting aspects of our current registry the Commonwealth is going to give two weeks of training to folks who have a desire to track sex offenders. This can only end badly and I’d prefer for this to be fixed now instead of saying I told you so 6 to 9 months from now.