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Cracking down on sex offenders

State representatives met in a public forum July 30 at Federal Way City Hall to begin a process they hope will better protect children against sex offenders — specifically those who fail to register their location in Washington state.

Rep. Skip Priest, R-30th District, Kirk Pearson, R-39th District, and Doug Ericksen, R-42nd District, gathered with Jim Hines and Anatoly Kalchik, both Washington state residents who advocate a strengthened sex offender monitoring system and stricter penalties for offenders failing to register with the state.

The forum was partially held in response to the murder of Kalchik’s niece, 12-year-old Zina Linnik of Tacoma, who was allegedly killed earlier this month by an unregistered sex offender living in Parkland, Wash.

“We had an unbelievably tragic reminder that our system is inadequate,” Priest said.

Priest, Pearson and Ericksen, as well as other state lawmakers, King and Pierce county police and prosecutors agree the state needs to alter how it monitors sex offenders.

They have all begun discussing possible legislation that could prevent cases similar to Linnik’s. Laws aimed at protecting children from sex offenders should not have to wait until January, when the Legislature commences, Ericksen said.

The laws need to be changed now, he said.

“Child sex-offender laws need to be improved,” Kalchik said at a news conference Monday. “We can’t wait until another child is killed.”

Legislators will be in Olympia this September. If the issue is addressed then, regulations could go into effect as soon as fall 2007, Ericksen said.

An ongoing problem

In the early 1990s, Washington’s laws led the nation in their ability to monitor and track sex offenders, Hines said at the conference.

Several laws have been put in place since that time, and many have helped make the system more effective, said David Hackett of the King County Prosecutor’s Office. Washington has some of the strictest laws in the nation in regards to sex offenses — but a problem with how sex predators are being tracked and punished still exists, Hackett said.

“It’s a common problem that does not seem to want to go away,” Hackett said.

More than 1,300 unregistered sex offenders currently reside in Washington state, Pearson said. The state’s biggest problem is being unable to locate those offenders, he said.

Currently, sex offenders are allowed to register as homeless, meaning the state is unaware of their whereabouts, Hines said. Sex offenders need to be held accountable for failing to register their location, Pearson said.

The legislators are in the process of consulting experts and citizens, looking to states such as Idaho for ideas on how to improve Washington’s sex offender laws.

“We are no longer leaders here in Washington,” Hines said.

Lawmakers wish to see improved monitoring of sex offenders through the use of Global Positioning System tracking devices. Talk of outfitting level three sex offenders (and those listing as homeless) with such devices was discussed at the conference. Several states already use GPS tracking devices for similar purposes, Ericksen said.

Sex offenses can carry severe punishment in Washington, including a minimum of 25 years in prison for criminal acts such as child molestation or rape of a child. But failing to register as a sex offender or regularly report to the local sheriff’s office does not carry such punishment. Failing to meet registration requirements can result in, at most, a year in jail for a sex predator’s first offense and prison time for a second or subsequent offense, according to data provided by Jim Morishima, State of Washington House Representatives Office of Program Research.

Providing sex offenders a 30-day grace period to register their location before they are jailed for at least a year was a proposal discussed at the conference. Hackett suggested requiring all sex predators in Washington to provide a DNA sample along with their currently required information when they register as a sex offender.

Requiring offenders to register with their identification before logging into Internet chat rooms was an idea introduced at the conference by Pearson.

Gail Crabtree, of Federal Way, asked legislators at the forum why the death penalty was not enforced for such predators. In an emotional moment, Crabtree said all sex crimes are serious in nature and those committed against children especially will have an overwhelming impact on that child’s future family and marriage. That crime will stay with the child forever, she said.

Shirley Luxem, of Issaquah, teaches parenting skills. The lack of empathy in a person is what allows sex predators to commit their heinous acts, she said. Fighting to prevent sex crimes against children needs to start at the home with good parenting, she said. Education needs to be paired with improved laws, Luxem said.

Legislators have not worked out the fine details of the proposed ways to prevent sex offenses, nor have they settled on where the money to improve the state’s system will come from.

The first step is to decide what steps are needed, and the state will then find a way to fund those steps, Priest said.

This does not mean a tax increase; it means tough decisions and compromises will have to be made by the state’s Republicans and Democrats, Priest said.

Law enforcement sees it another way. These agencies are understaffed and cannot keep up with the cases currently presented to them, said Det. Ed Troyer of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.

Sheriff’s offices, which currently are responsible for tracking level two and level three sex offenders, will need more money and resources to enforce existing and new laws alike, Troyer said.

The bottom line: Washington is failing to protect its children, and cases such as Linnik’s could possibly have been prevented if the state had a working system for locating and monitoring sex offenders, lawmakers said.

“We don’t want to be talking about what we could have done (to protect children), but what we did do,” Ericksen said.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

Numbers

In King County, 4,025 sex offenders reside. Of those, 3,040 are classified as level one, the least likely to re-offend; 561 are classified as level two; and 396 are classified as level three, according to a King County Sheriff’s Department.

In Federal Way, 230 sex offenders reside. Of those, 210 are classified as level one, the least likely to re-offend; 15 are classified as level two; and 5 are classified as level three, said Police Chief Brian Wilson. Of the 230 offenders, 167 of them committed sex crimes against children, Wilson said.

To learn more about sex offender classification levels, visit www.metrokc.gov/sheriff. To learn more about existing laws affecting sex predators, visit www.leg.wa.gov.

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