ELIZABETHTOWN — Essex County lawmakers decided Monday that telling sex offenders where to live might not work and that educating children and adults to recognize abuse could be far more effective.
That was the consensus of a two-hour tri-county sex-abuse-prevention forum held in the Old Essex County Courthouse.
Essex County District Attorney Kristy Sprague, Essex County Sheriff Richard Cutting, Clinton County Sheriff David Favro and Franklin County Sheriff Kevin Mulverhill attended, along with representatives of area school districts, probation departments, State Police and the U.S. Marshals Service.
The meeting, Essex County Board of Supervisors Chair Randy Douglas (D-Jay) told those assembled, was prompted by questions from citizens “about how we share information, rules and regulations of sex-offender registry laws, how we make sure our children are safe from sex offenders.”
MOST ARE KNOWN
Officials said about 132 registered offenders live in Essex County, 200 in Clinton County and 140 in Franklin County.
New York state has three levels of convicted sex offenders: 1 is considered the least likely to do it again, 2 is moderate risk and 3 is high risk.
The State Division of Criminal Justice Services posts much information about Level 2 and 3 offenders on a website, though at present, according to that site, a lawsuit on behalf of some individuals bars their inclusion. A toll-free number is available to access their information, however.
Level 2 offenders are registered for 20 years, along with a photo, zip code and possibly more information, Sprague said at the session.
Level 3 is a lifetime registry for sex offenders with the most personal information available, including address and details about the crime.
It is a felony to fail to register.
Online information is not available about Level 1 offenders or those with a pending risk level. And while names and addresses cannot be acquired by phone either, callers can find out if a specific person is on the registry if they can provide the name and another identifier, such as exact address or birth date.
Sex offenders aren’t normally strangers, Sprague added.
“Eighty or 90 percent of the time the victim knows the perpetrator: boyfriend, stepdad, uncle. They (abusers) groom and stalk and figure out how to infiltrate a family.
“We see children who are broken little people.”
Richelle Beach, executive director of the Clinton County Child Advocacy Center in the DA’s Office, said it usually takes one to five years for a child to tell someone about abuse, and the average age of the victim is 9 years.
“Fifty-six percent (of abusers) are family members. They already know the child. Five percent are strangers. Eighty-four percent (of abuse) occurs in the residence.”
Cutting said they do sweeps two or three times a year to verify the residency of convicted sex offenders, vehicles they own, where they work and so on.
“If not, they’re subject to arrest. We average six to eight arrests a year. We’ve had six so far this year.”
Favro said the Clinton County Sheriff’s Department offers a website that lets people track sex offenders and sign up for email alerts when offenders move in and out of their community.
“We have to be able to try to reach out to (those who might become victims),” he said. “We have to be in their homes (via) the Internet.”
Essex County Attorney Daniel Manning III cautioned county lawmakers against rushing to pass sex-offender residency laws, as had been suggested recently.
“Counties have passed local laws restricting sex offenders from living near schools, nurseries, day cares, anywhere children congregate,” he said. “There have been challenges in six to eight counties to these residency requirements, distances and inclusions.
“Basically, every single one of these lawsuits has resulted in overturning this local law.
“The issue has been pre-emption,” he continued. “If the state of New York has enacted any law already covering the subject matter, the courts will not allow local municipalities to enact any local law intended for or within that purview.
“I think you’ll have a severe challenge to it,” Manning said, if laws were to be enacted locally.
Franklin County Legislature Chairman Gordon Crossman (D-Malone), a former teacher, said education of children and adults is critical on the issue.
“School systems are taking on more and more responsibility for the child. I really am impressed by what I’ve seen today. It’s that education that’s needed, so they (victims) know where to go.”
Moriah Central School Superintendent William Larrow said he’d like to see future forums.
“We continue to educate our students and our parents; that’s critical to all of us. Programs in the schools are a benefit to all of us.”
After hearing from Manning, Douglas said he didn’t feel a law would work but that sharing information might.
“The last thing I want to do is create a law for all three counties that wouldn’t stand up in court,” he said.
“This is not the easiest topic, but it’s important that we got here today.
“I hope we all come away from this making sure we’re doing what’s best to keep our children safe.”
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Go online to look for the names and addresses of level 2 and 3 offenders. New York State Public Safety on Facebook: www.facebook.com/NYSPublicSafety. or State Division of Criminal Justice: http://www.criminaljustice.ny.gov. Clinton County offers a site as well: http://tinyurl.com/8g6wqsy. To find out about level 2 or 3 offenders whose names do not appear on the state site, or to ask about a specific person whose inclusion is pending or who is a Level 1 offender, call (800) 262-3257.