Hey, Not Our Fault

Monday, December 10th, 2007

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.

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5 Responses to “Hey, Not Our Fault”

  1. #1 |  Ruud | 

    Have any states approved the differently colored sex offenders license plate yet? I know that legislators in Ohio were pushing for pink ones. No one likes a sex offender, but that’s a little crazy – I can just imagine the road rage.

  2. #2 |  David Chesler | 

    A year and a half ago I blogged:
    The Massachusetts Sex Offender Registration law, MGL Chapter 6 section 178N, Misuse of Information says

    Information contained in the sex offender registry shall not be used to commit a crime against a sex offender or to engage in illegal discrimination or harassment of an offender.

    It’s not clear from the statute what kind of discrimination is illegal. If it’s illegal on other grounds (such as race) this is awfully redundant. This is typically summarized, as when the local newspaper announces that an offender is living nearby, that the information may not be used to discriminate. If it can’t be used to discriminate, what good is it? Isn’t telling my kids “Stay away from that particular neighbor” or even after the fact noting that a re-offender is on the list discriminating?

  3. #3 |  Zeb | 

    “Information contained in the sex offender registry shall not be used to commit a crime against a sex offender or to engage in illegal discrimination or harassment of an offender.”

    Isn’t this just a law saying that it is against the law to do something against the law?

  4. #4 |  Micheal Price | 

    “Isn’t this just a law saying that it is against the law to do something against the law?”

    Not it’s saying you can’t use the information on the sex offender registry to deny someone a job. That’s useful information to all the child care centre operators who otherwise would have.

  5. #5 |  Code Monkey Ramblings » Blog Archive » Registries are fun until they are used against the government | 

    […] mean like how sex offender registries often put people who committed minor sex crimes, or those who happen to move into a home they used to occupy, in danger of being injured or killed by blood-crazed vigilantes […]

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