Opinion

It takes tenacity to track sex offenders

Public safety, as well as updating our sex offender tracking and monitoring, has been on the minds of our district’s citizens, particularly in light of the tragic death of Zina Linnik last July.

I believe public safety is at the heart of all we do in the Legislature. If families don’t feel safe, other agenda items don’t seem all that important.

At the request of 30th District community leader Anatoly Kalchik (Zina’s uncle) and the Linnik family, I took a leadership role last fall and put forth common-sense updates to our sex offender monitoring and tracking laws. This year, we made some positive progress, but both the Legislature and citizens must keep their sense of urgency to ensure our laws reflect the terrible nature of sex crimes.

Last July, local community members and I organized a public safety meeting in Federal Way. At the meeting, law enforcement (including Federal Way Police Chief Brian Wilson), prosecutors and citizens offered ideas and solutions to update our sex offender laws. Many of the suggestions were turned into legislation and presented to the governor’s Special Sex Offender Task Force last fall.

One of the most significant measures that passed this year is House Bill 2713. The bill expands a statewide biological sample (DNA) database of people convicted of sex crimes or criminal activities considered by experts to be precursors to sex crimes. This bill is an important, proactive step to catch repeat offenders as well as exonerate the innocent.

House Bill 2786 also passed this year. This measure allows law enforcement to place Level 1 sex offenders on the statewide sex offender notification Web site who are guilty of failing to maintain their required address registration. I sponsored this legislation because sex offenders who don’t want law enforcement and the public to know where they live are the ones we worry about the most.

Terapon Adhahn, who recently entered a guilty plea to abducting and murdering Zina Linnik, was classified as a Level 1 sex offender and had failed to register his most recent address with law enforcement.

Another key update to help prosecutors, which passed this year, is House Bill 2719. I sponsored this bill to ensure sex offenders receive accurate sentences that reflect all of their previous convictions for the same types of crimes.

To go along with these initiatives, the Legislature allocated $5 million to help fund law enforcement’s efforts to verify sex offender registration information. Better tracking means added protections for families.

There were also some missed opportunities. One measure would have required all Level 3 sex offenders, considered the most dangerous, and all sex offenders who register as homeless, to wear an electronic monitoring device (GPS).

The governor made a small step in this direction by pledging to place 50 Level 3 sex offenders on GPS by June 2008, with a goal of outfitting 150 with GPS by the end of 2009. She also authorized $400,000 for the pilot project. This is not enough, because the state has proven it cannot adequately monitor the current flow of sex offenders it is releasing into our communities. More than 1,400 sex offenders are unaccounted for right now.

Last, another critical piece of legislation requiring sex offenders to register their e-mail and Internet Web site addresses when registering their physical address was left undone. The reality is technology is growing rapidly. The Internet allows sex offenders to pose as young people and prey on our children, all from the comfort and anonymity of their homes.

The state must keep up with today’s technology by using the best innovation, like GPS, to track the most dangerous sex offenders, and to monitor sex offenders’ online activity. We have all the technology we need, but we must be willing to make the commitment to use it as a way to improve public safety.

The Legislature took some important steps this year. It began the process of updating our laws to better monitor sex offenders and created added protections for families. I believe we can and must do more to address the most dangerous sex predators. Next year will create another opportunity for the Legislature to put families before felons.

For more information on how to protect your children from online predators, visit the state Attorney General’s Web site at www.atg.wa.gov/InternetSafety/Kids.

Skip Priest, R-Federal Way, represents the 30th Legislative District. Contact: (360) 786-7830 or priest.skip@leg.wa.gov.

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