Nevada’s Public Safety Commission has set up a website that includes searchable maps of where the state’s sex offenders live. The city of Las Vegas then decided to set up its own site, with a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.
The problem is that both websites populate their databases with information from sex offenders themselves, people who, as you might imagine, aren’t terribly vigilant about keeping their addresses up to date with state authorities. This has led to neighbors harassing non-sex offenders who happened to have moved into residences formerly occupied by sex offenders.
The city says it isn’t to blame because . . . it includes a disclaimer on the website stating it shouldn’t be used to harass or intimidate sex offenders. Pitchfork-toting crowds, city police say, should be aware of the fact that sex offenders supply the state with it’s information, and that they 100 percent accurate. Sounds . . . dubious.
When 71-year-old Harry Berlin, a non-sex offender who’s been mistakenly harassed and threatened by neighbors, asked city officials to correct their records, they told him he had to ask the people who run the state database. When he went to the state, they told him to go back to the city. So now he’s suing. In the meantime, his neighbors will continue to periodically gather outside his door to taunt him.
Maybe Berlin should consider himself lucky. Matt Welch notes that a guy in California was stabbed to death last month after a neighbor found his name on a sex offender list. There were two similar vigilante murders in Maine earlier this year, and two more in Washington State last year. Both pairs of murders involved online sex offender lists. I can’t seem to find a link to an online version, but CNN did a special about a year ago on a mentally retarded kid in his late teens who had the mental capacity of a 10-year-old. He was convicted of a sex crime after exposing himself to a minor in a “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” kind of way. After moving, his new neighbors found his name on a sex offender list, and began posting signs around the neighborhood warning about the “rapist” who lived at his address. The kid ended up killing himself.
This kind of thing was pretty predictable.