School graduation rates, crime statistics and home values. These are the things that people look up when considering purchasing or renting a home. But along with those issues, parents especially might be inclined to check the local sex offender registry, to see if there are people in the neighborhood that parents would prefer not be around their children.
It hasn’t always been this way: it was only back in 1994 when the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act established the requirement that state law enforcement register sexual offenders. It was the more commonly-known amendment to that bill, Meghan’s Law, that established those registries as public.
But a new study by Alissa Ackerman, a professor of social work at the University of Washington, Tacoma suggests that in the intervening 18 years, those registries have become over bloated and inaccurate. Studying five of the largest state registries including New York, Texas, Illinois, Georgia and Florida, she discovered many registered offenders had either died or moved out of the communities they were registered to.
New York State was the second-worst offender in the list, with a staggering 52% variance between registrants and current locations. Out of 32,930 offenders listed, only 15,950 could be verified. A search of that registry shows 1,387 of those offenders registered in Monroe County.
The search page also includes an explicit disclaimer about the accuracy of the data contained therein that would seem to be at odds with the mission of the database.
DCJS attempts to ensure that the information in the Subdirectory is accurate and complete. However, the information on the Subdirectory is reported to DCJS by other sources. As a result, DCJS makes no express or implied guarantee concerning the accuracy or completeness of this data.
Accuracy and completeness
There are a few obvious problems with a registry including inaccurate information. The first is: if Offender A isn’t where they say he is, then where is he? It would be difficult to argue that the registry “tracks sexual offenders” if it’s not accurately tracking them when they move. The registry offers what they call “Sex Offender Relocation Alerts.” How can the public trust that they’re accurate?
For the person selling their house or renting an apartment, the erroneous listing of a sex offender in your neighborhood could be as bad as actually having one there.
Kristen Munson ( @MrsMunson ), brand evangelist for the rental property search and resource website NewDigs.com, says that requests for sexual offender data are occasional. She stressed that while her company does not get regular requests for offender registry data, the subject comes up enough that the company plans to adopt sex offender registry data into their system sometime this year.
“This is the first I’m hearing of inaccuracies, which would definitely be a concern for us,” she states.
While Mrs. Munson does not have any first-hand knowledge of rentals in jeopardy because of registered sex offenders, she does say, ” I have heard people say they wish they had known, or they wish their landlord had told them that a known sex offender lived in their building.”
DFE attempted to contact the New York State Department of Criminal Justice Services for this article. At the time of publish, I have not received any response.