PLATTSBURGH — Clinton County Sheriff’s Deputy Leigh Wenske knocked on the door of a small house on Route 9 in Chazy.
Then the light in the residence went dark.
He tried the side door and peered through the blinds and, after waiting several minutes, he returned to his patrol car and made note of the situation.
It’s not uncommon for sex offenders to pretend they’re not home when a deputy comes knocking, said Sheriff’s Department Lt. Paul Rissetto, but they can’t hide forever.
“We’ll be coming back,” he said. “We’ll find them.
The Clinton County Sheriff’s Department is charged with keeping its part of the state’s Sex Offender Registry up to date; Plattsburgh City Police are responsible for offenders living there.
Every sex offender in the county outside the City of Plattsburgh will get a visit from a deputy at least once a year, Wenske said as he drove his patrol car to an address near South Plattsburgh, the first of several “compliance checks” he would do that day.
The Sheriff’s Department must keep track of offenders’ work and home addresses, cellphone and land-line numbers, details on the vehicle the person drives and any changes in the offender’s physical appearance.
The department has records of the usernames and passwords to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
There are about 36,330 registered sex offenders in New York State, according to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Office; as of Wednesday, there were 492 sex offenders in the Clinton, Essex, Franklin county area.
In the week leading up to Halloween this year, the Sheriff’s Department and the Clinton County Department of Probation went to the homes of every registered sex offender in the county, outside the City of Plattsburgh, to conduct compliance checks.
In all, that totaled 210 people spread out over the whole county.
“We wanted to do the most we could do to ensure safety for kids and families going out,” said Clinton County Sheriff David Favro. “Maintaining the Sex Offender Registry can be a pretty complex process, but it is a critical one.”
He said some sheriff’s departments let the task fall by the wayside. But if addresses or other information is not updated as quickly as possible, “you’ve made the kids in that area potentially vulnerable to being a victim.”
All the information that deputies collect during compliance checks goes Rissetto for review.
The reporting requirements for sex offenders in the state are stringent.
“They generally have 10 days for anything,” he said.
If a sex offender fails to report in accordance with the law, it is a felony offense.
So far this year, the Sheriff’s Department has reported more than 600 changes in the county’s sex offender population to the State Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), Rissetto said.
“They’re smart,” he said. “They like to pick up and move around. Level 3s are generally moving around all the time.”
The state organizes convicted sex offenders into three numbered categories.
Level 1 offenders have low risk of repeat offense, Level 2 have a moderate risk, and Level 3 offenders have a high risk of repeat offense and present the greatest threat to the community.
The number of offenders is updated weekly on the DCJS website, said Janine Kava, director of public information for the agency.
Rissetto and a couple of deputies regularly view the online accounts of sex offenders.
This year, they found 11 different Facebook accounts that Level 2 sex offender Hagan D. Dominie had created.
“He didn’t report any of them.”
About two years ago, Dominie was convicted of sex crimes he perpetrated at least twice against a boy younger than 11, according to the Sex Offender Registry. He was arrested last June, authorities said, because he was living in Plattsburgh but had provided law enforcement with a Vermont address.
As he prepared to meet with another offender in Schuyler Falls that day, Wenske said most sex offenders are fully compliant with a deputy’s requests, but some are deceptive.
“They try to (withhold information), but it’s pretty easy to figure out.”
Police officers are lied to constantly and can recognize when someone isn’t being truthful, he said.
As well, the neighbors of sex offenders are well aware of the identities, and if they see something wrong, they will often call police, Wenske said.
“Some (sex offenders) don’t like pictures of their vehicles taken,” he said. “Some people may not want to answer fully or they get mad because you’re there checking up on them. They’ll become quite resistant, at times, to answering questions. And, really, they have no choice.”
Wenske’s patrol car computer is equipped with a function that alerts him to different crimes associated with vehicles he passes by.
One of the alarms indicates a car is registered to a sex offender. It’s a distinctive high-pitched siren-like sound accompanied by an automated voice.
“If I’m driving through a school area, and I see some guy sitting in the car, (and) I drive by and it picks up his (license) plate saying he’s a sex offender, (then) what’s he doing in a school area?”
Wenke can access any information he needs about a sex offender from the computer in his patrol car.
“We are connected right into the main server for Offender Watch.”
For those labeled sex offenders, the particulars of their crimes vary greatly.
Wenske said he has seen many cases where young men or women were convicted of a sex crime because they engaged in consensual sex with someone who is not capable of consent under state law.
The age of consent in New York is 17.
“One night, I was on patrol in Saranac Lake, and I came across Saranac Lake High School, and there was a girl and a guy engaged in oral sex on the front steps of the school,” Wenske said, recalling his time as an officer with the Saranac Lake Police Department.
The young man was 22, and the girl was either 14 or 15 years old, Wenske said.
“She said that this had been an ongoing thing where they’ve had sex before so they charged (him) with a bunch of counts of rape.
“You can turn around and get hit with a sex crime and be a sex offender for just thinking another person, male or female, could be the right age ...,” he said.
However, Rissetto said, such cases make up only about 10 percent of the sex offender population in the county.
In November, Cuomo announced a state initiative to display multiple photos of convicted sex offenders “in an effort to make offenders more recognizable to law enforcement personnel and the public,” according to a news release.
Before the state approved the change, only one photo of each offender on the registry was available.
Level 3 offenders are required to update their registry photographs each year, while Level 1 and 2 offenders must do so every three years.
Level 3 offenders must also verify their addresses with law enforcement every 90 days.
The Sex Offender Registry is updated often, with staff typically processing changes in information the same day it is received, according to the Governor’s Office.
’RARELY ADMIT TO CRIMES’
Despite convictions and time in jail, sex offenders aren’t forthcoming with their criminal histories, Rissetto said.
“It’s a label that they’re not comfortable with.”
“Very rarely do they want to admit what they did was even wrong,” he said. “I can’t even comprehend that. How can you do something like that to a kid accidentally?”
There are families in Clinton County where the mother, father, children and uncles, for example, are convicted sex offenders, Rissetto said.
“The best thing for the public to do is to be informed. The more information and knowledge you have, the (better prepared) you are.”
Email Felicia Krieg: email@example.comTwitter: @FeliciaKrieg