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Review of the Offender Registry System

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Recent events relating to child abduction have been headlining in the news and have brought attention to the Offender Registry System. The West Fargo Police Department thought a review of the system and how it works would be pertinent.

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Minnesota can be credited with initial development of an offender list. Before 1991, law enforcement did not have an organized, compiled list of sex offenders. When Jacob Wetterling was abducted in 1989, a massive search was organized and numerous leads were generated and logged. These leads actually became the foundation of a massive database that lead to the development of a sex offender list in Minnesota.

While Wetterling has never been found, the legislation passed in Minnesota is credited with the beginning of the Sex Offender Registry that exists today. Since then, several bills and acts have been created and passed on a national level, which include: the 1994 Missing Child Response Act, 1994 Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act, 1996 Megan's Law, 1996 Pam Lychner Sexual Offender Tracking and Identification Act, 1997 Jacob Wetterling Improvement Acts, the 2000 Campus Sex Crimes Prevention Act, and the 2006 Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act.

Because of the evolution of the original offender registration program in 1991, the registry has become a national resource for law enforcement.

The 1991 North Dakota State Legislature passed the first two laws dealing with offender registration. In 1993 the North Dakota State Legislature amended these statutes.

There currently are three categories of offenders covered by the North Dakota Century Code that include offenders against children, sexual offenders and sexually dangerous individuals.

Several agencies in the state are responsible for working together to maintain the registered offender database. In North Dakota, the Office of the Attorney General is responsible for maintaining a statewide database and conducting address verification of offenders. The courts, correctional facilities and the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation are responsible for informing convicted offenders of their need to register. Law enforcement agencies are responsible for carrying out the registration process.

Offenders are registered by local police and sheriff's departments by fingerprinting, photographing, and obtaining the offenders registration information and signature. This information is sent to the Office of Attorney General, Bureau of Criminal Investigation, where the statewide registration database is maintained.

The West Fargo Police Department currently maintains files for 34 registered offenders. Five of these offenders only work in West Fargo and live elsewhere in the community. Offenders are to appear at the law enforcement agency in the jurisdiction of their residence, school enrollment and or employment within three days of moving into that jurisdiction.

West Fargo Police Clerks are responsible for completing the registration paperwork, fingerprinting and photographing each offender. Police Clerks also maintain the files on the registered offenders as well as statistical reports at the end of each month detailing the number of offenders that live or work in West Fargo. The Police Clerks work closely with patrol officers to keep information current and up to date.

"The police clerk staff at the West Fargo Police Department plays a big role in keeping the sexual offender files up to date, as well as processing the new offenders that move into our community," Detective Sergeant Greg Warren said. "They also update offender information when offenders move to a new address, change vehicles or change their employment."

West Fargo police officers are assigned at least one offender that they are expected to maintain contact with on a regular basis. These assignments are overseen by Warren. Warren and his staff of investigators are also assigned one or more offenders to maintain contact with.

The offender registration process in West Fargo has changed and evolved drastically since it was first established in 1991.

"When law enforcement started registering offenders, we only dealt with offenders once a week at the most," Warren said. "Since that time, it has become a daily routine of registering offenders, checking on offenders, keeping the paperwork up to date and notifying the State Bureau of Criminal Investigations of all changes and additions."

Warren also sits on the Sex Offender Containment Task Force that is made up of officers from the West Fargo Police Department, Fargo Police Department, Cass County Sheriff's Office, State and Federal Probation, and the Cass County State's Attorney Office. This task force was created in order to foster open communication and shared information related to offenders in Cass County. The committee meets monthly and discusses any problems relating to the registration of new or existing offenders. They also discuss offenders who have been compliant and are meeting the requirements laid out by the court and parole or probation, whether an offender needs to be on a GPS tracking system, and any failure to register cases that may have occurred with the State's Attorney Office.

Offenders must register in North Dakota if they have pled guilty to or been convicted of certain criminal offenses. These offenses include several sex offenses such as, but not limited to, gross sexual imposition, corruption of a minor, luring minors by computer and sexual assault. A person also must register if that person has pled guilty or "nolo contend ere" to, or been found guilty of, an offense in another court in the United States, a tribal court, or court of another country, which is equivalent to those offenses.

Individuals convicted of crimes that are not sex offenses but which involve, for example, force against or restraint of a child, are required to register as an "offender against children." Offenders against children are listed on the state's offender registry but are not sex offenders.

The Office of the North Dakota Attorney General maintains a Web site - www.sexoffender.nd.gov - that includes a listing of high risk offenders and offenders with a lifetime registration requirement. A printable list of all offenders, regardless of their risk level, also is available. The information on the sex offender Web site is current and updated in real time as it is reported by local law enforcement agencies.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding offender registration, please contact the West Fargo Police Department at 701-433-5500.

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