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Sex offense enforcement is a multi-faceted task
Although there are be 95 convicted sex offenders living in Island County, their presence is not necessarily cause for public concern. A law that requires convicted sex offenders to register and be scrutinized by the Island County Sheriffs office, is based on the available evidence helping protect the public.
Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley said that there have been any violent crimes by the countys sex offender population during his tenure as sheriff.
But even so we watch them closely for their ability to conform and obey all laws, even traffic laws, parole violations and failure to register, he said.
The requirement for sex offender registration and community notification comes from the 1990 Community Protection Act. Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley said Washington state was a pioneer as the first state to adopt requirements, known as Megans Law, taking a hard stand against sex criminals. In Island County, the small sheriffs office has a detective working full time on registering and monitoring the countys resident sex offenders.
Monitoring these offenders is Detective Sue Quandt. She investigates many of the sex crimes in the county. She also registers convicted sex offenders who move to and live on Whidbey and Camano Islands. Its no small task.
Of the 95 convicted sex offenders living in Island County, are in the county jail serving time for other crimes. There are 12 level moderate- or high-risk sex offenders living in Island County, five on Camano Island, two on South Whidbey, two in Oak Harbor and three considered homeless. The remaining are classified as Level 1 sex offenders who are believed by law enforcement to be a low risk to re-offend.
Since Feb. 28, 1990, individuals convicted of a sex offense or serving time for such an offense as of that date have been required to register with the sheriffs offices in the counties in which they intend to reside upon release from prison. Offenders who move to Washington from another state or foreign country must likewise register.
Once registered, the offender is required to notify the sheriffs office 14 days prior to any change of address. If the move is to another county in this state, the offender must notify sheriffs offices of both counties. Failure to do so is a felony and will result in re-incarceration. Homeless sex offenders are required to check in with Quandt on a weekly basis.
Some sex offenders are required to register for life, others for only 10 years.
The law requires Quandt and other detectives like her to verify an offenders address once a year.
But I like to drop in on them and do spot checks, especially on the higher risk offenders, Quandt said.
Keeping a close watch on registered sex offenders has kept the rate repeat crimes by these individuals low in Island County, and has pressured a number of offenders to move elsewhere.
I dont have a problem with 90 percent of them, especially the Level 1 people, and most of the others, Quandt said. For the most part we dont have repeat offenders in this county.
Quandt said it is best for all parties involved for her to treat registered sex offenders with basic human respect, but she does come down hard on them when they violate the conditions of their release from prison.
Assessing the risk
Sheriff Mike Hawley said monitoring for compliance is a high priority for this county. For that reason Quandt is assigned to that duty full time.
The Department of Corrections sets risk ratings on offenders leaving prisons, but the sheriff in each county has the ultimate authority over the ratings.
Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley said we dont automatically upgrade convicted sex offenders to the next risk level.
But Hawley said we do look at the entire history of the individual and if there are enough other factors we will raise them to the next level.
We have a high standard in Island County, and the standard reflects the pulse of the community.
As the sheriff, Hawley has the authority to change the states initial classification after a local review. We look at all of the data on an offender before classifying.
A number of variables are taken into accountincluding substance abuse, the number of accusations and other crimes committed.
Hawley said we look at the whole package. What other types of criminal behavior have they been involved in and how many accusations been made, but not substantiated against them.
Substance abuse is also a factor in determining the risk to the community.
Why they come to Whidbey
Hawley said law enforcement does not have the right to prevent a sex offender from moving into the area. Once a sex offender has paid for his crime, he can live where he chooses.
Most live here because they were convicted here or they have family in the area, he said.
But Island County is hardly a haven for released sex offenders, most of whom have no financial resources to work with after getting out of prison.
One reason we have so few in the county is the high cost of living and the lack of jobs, Hawley said. Its easier for them to relocate in cities once they are released from prison.
In comparison Snohomish County lists over 100 Level 2 and 3 sex offenders living within its boundaries and San Juan County identifies one offender living in the county at this time.
Another deterrent to re-offend is the notification requirement where the sheriffs office sponsors neighborhood meetings when a Level 2 or 3 is moving into the vicinity.
Monitoring sex offenders who have paid their dues while protecting the community from those who might re-offend is a balance of the publics right to know verses a persons right to privacy. It is a unique crime. Hawley said.
They are not the kind hiding in the bushes waiting to ambush their victim. They are often the uncles or involved in youth activities.
Sex offenses vary year to year
In 2003 the sheriffs office received 53 reported sexual assaults, down from 100 in 2002 and equal to the 53 in 2001. For the same period there were 68 reports of child abuse in 2001, 75 in 2002 and 57 in 2003. Det. Sue Quandt said some reports of child abuse are sexual assaults.
Many of those were investigated by Quandt. Those investigations involving children require special handling.
During a recent interview with Quandt in the childs interview room at South Whidbeys sheriffs precinct, Quandt talked about her role in both areas. The room, designed by Quandt, is a place where children feel safe and comfortable. An upholstered sofa and a childs table and chair and lots of stuffed animals make it homey.
But what most children wont see is the camera and video equipment that are used during interviews with children.
Quandt explained another detective and prosecutor will always monitor the interview from another room at the precinct, and sometimes a caseworker from Child Protective Services when they are involved in the case.
Quandt said knowing how to interview them is as important as knowing what to ask.
For instance their definitions of words, especially younger children may be different than those of adults. She talked about a case in which an adult reported overhearing a young girl say she had sex. But after interviewing the girl, Quandt discovered the girl thought kissing was sex.
Small children will often say what you want to hear so we have to be careful how to ask the questions, and no leading questions, she said.
Child interview rooms are in place in Oak Harbor and Coupeville and Quandt carries a portable interview room with all the electronic equipment and props in her car when she is investigating cases on Camano Island.
New state Web site monitors convicted sex offenders
A statewide Web site identifies the location of all registered level 2 and 3 sex offenders living in Washington state. Sponsored by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chief Association, it allows users to access the site by county, city, street, zip code, offenders last name or type of conviction.
Offenders are ranked according to the type of crime, their risk to the community, whether they are a threat to re-offend. A level 1, many first time offenders, poses the lowest possible risk to the community and their likelihood to re-offend is considered minimal. They normally have not exhibited predatory type characteristics and have completed treatment programs.
A level 2 presents a moderate risk to the community and they have higher likelihood of re-offending because of the nature of their previous crimes and lifestyle habits such as drug and alcohol abuse and other criminal activity. Some have refused to participate in treatment programs.
Level 3 offenders pose a high risk to the community and are a threat to re-offend if provided the opportunity. Most have prior sex crime and other convictions, Some have predatory characteristics and may seek out new victims and may have refused or failed to complete treatment programs.
Island County has always listed all level 3 offenders living in the county in a sex offender registry available at the three ICSO precincts and the Oak Harbor and Langley Police Departments.
The new Web site address is: http://www.waspc.org/wa_sex/index.shtml.