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AS I SEE IT

Posted 6/13/12 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

Can you imagine your horror if you didn’t know that a registered sex offender was living just down the block from you and your family. Or to make matters worse, what if you were to discover that a sex offender had actually been working in your home with you and your children.
Well unfortunately, each of these scenarios is being played out each and every day in McKenzie County. That’s right, there are sex offenders living and working in McKenzie County. And what makes the whole matter even more unsettling is the fact that the public is generally the last to know that these individuals could very well be living nearby or have the potential of working in your home.
Yes, sex offenders have the right to move into North Dakota. And they have the right to work. The judicial system pretty much guarantees them that right. And while we may find that kind of protection afforded to these individuals unsettling, that is the way the system works.
But what is not right is the way the system fails to give timely notice to the general public when sex offenders locate in places like Watford City, Arnegard, Alexander or anywhere else in McKenzie County.
As Slade Herfindahl stated during a meeting in Watford City between concerned citizens, local elected officials and area law enforcement, “The system is broke from the national level on down.”
To point out just how broke the system for public notification is, consider what Herfindahl described as the process that local law enforcement must follow to obtain a sex offender’s classification in order to notify the public.
First, when a registered offender moves into the state, they have three days to notify the local law enforcement. Once they have notified either the local police or sheriff’s department, the agency sends that person’s name and information to the North Dakota Sex Offender Registration and Classification Committee (SORAC).
SORAC then assigns the individual a classification for the state of North Dakota (a process that can take up to one year to complete) and notifies the community of the offender’s presence, which usually consists of placing their information on the state’s sex offender registry website, www.sexoffender.nd.gov/.
To make the process even more cumbersome and ineffective is that  each state develops its own classification system of how to rate the severity of the sex offender’s crime. Which means that SORAC must try to determine how a classification in one state should be classified in North Dakota. And that is why so many of the sex offenders living in McKenzie County do not carry a classification on the state’s website.
Broken is hardly the word to be used to describe the process that local law enforcement must follow in order to provide complete and accurate information to the general public on the status of sex offenders who are in the area. The process is completely asinine.
While local law enforcement agencies in McKenzie County are revamping the process by which they notify the public of the sex offenders living in the county, the North Dakota Attorney General’s office also needs to beef up the way the SORAC process works at the state level.
From the general public’s standpoint, the best solution would be the creation of a national sex offender registry that all states would input their information into and all of the classifications would be the same. But apparently that isn’t the way that things are being done, which is unfortunate and apparently a big part of the problem.
And that doesn’t solve North Dakota’s problem of having sex offenders moving into the state and then living in a community for up to a year before they receive their classification from SORAC.
Perhaps until the federal government and the states get their act together, a better course of action for the state of North Dakota to follow would be to prohibit any sex offender from moving into the state until they have been classified by SORAC.
A harsh way to deal with sex offenders? Maybe. But the government needs to do more to protect the rights of the general public than what it is currently doing.
And when it comes to informing the general public about the presence of sex offenders in a community, the public’s right to know must always trump the sex offender’s rights to move about freely and without the public’s knowledge.