Legislators began Thursday looking at changes to state law that would address inaccuracies in the registry that alerts neighbors that someone convicted of sex and/or child predatory crimes lives nearby.
The Louisiana Legislative Auditor found that the severity of the crime, called a tier, wasn’t accurate for 61% of the sex offenders tested. The information listed on the registry wasn’t updated in 21% of the cases.
That could mean the public often doesn’t know when a predator is within their midst. It could also mean that the miscategorized offender continues to be punished unnecessarily.
But the reason isn’t incompetence or laziness. The several agencies involved do their bit seriously, but independently. What’s happening is that necessary data is falling through gaps because nobody is in charge.
“No one specifically, in law, is designated to check the work,” Chris Magee, the data analytics manager the Louisiana Legislative Auditor's Office testified to the Legislative Audit Advisory Council.
Reliability of Data in the Sex Offender and Child Predator Registry report by Louisiana Legislative Auditor
Every agency has their expertise, but often the information is recorded inconsistently with what other agencies input. “No one agency is responsible for making sure the data is complete and reliable,” he said.
Fixing the issue isn’t as easy as pointing to a single agency, like the State Police, because of funding conflicts and because of legal prohibitions that only the Legislature can change, said Council Chair Barry Ivey, R-Central. “Without laws, there are intergovernmental issues that might arise,” he said.
The Legislative Auditor’s Office has done a lot of the legwork that the lawmakers can now use to come up with a solution, he added.
Thirty-six other states have set-ups similar to Louisiana’s and several of those jurisdictions discovered issues with their registries.
Louisiana has 11,312 sex offenders on its registry. The websites allow members of the public to check their neighborhoods for registered sex offenders. Viewers can see a photo of the offender, when and where the crime was committed as well as how serious the offense, along with other information.
Local police use the registry when investigating sex crimes.
Several agencies – the 64 parish sheriffs, local police departments, the Louisiana State Police, the Attorney General’s Office to name a few – each play a role in tracking sex offenders once they have finished their prison time. The offenders are supposed to sign onto public registry and send out post cards informing neighbors of their presence for 15 years, which is Tier 1, 25 years, Tier 2, or for the rest of their lives, Tier 3.
Larger departments have the personnel available to manually input the data, handle the periodic updates, scan the court documents and upload everything to the central statewide registry. But smaller jurisdictions don’t have the money or personnel to do so and keep a lot of the updated information in paper files.
State Sen. Jay Luneau, D-Alexandria and a member of the council, asked flat out which agency should be put in charge. Nobody volunteered. The Office of Probation and Parole could do it, but their officers already are overworked and severely underfunded, he noted.
The Louisiana State Police has a supervisor and three employees working on the registry. But State Police have no personal contact with the offenders, who are required to report to authorities up to four times a year depending on the severity of their crime and live all across Louisiana, said Lance Kennedy, whose unit oversees the registry.
“Is the problem we have is lack of funding,” Luneau asked.
“The funding is very, very small when compared to the task that is being asked,” Magee responded.