Nevada recordkeeping on sex offenders questionable
The state has lost contact with 13 of 38 high-risk sex offenders whose Nevada sentences require them to maintain contact with authorities once released from prison.
Those convicted of the worst or repeated sex-related crimes make up a small part of Nevada’s list of registered sex offenders. But state officials also can’t say how many lesser-risk offenders are meeting the maintain-contact mandate.
The high-risk cases are considered Tier 3 sex offenders. There are another 2,689 people in lesser Tier 2 and Tier 1 categories, typically those who don’t have multiple convictions or were convicted of less egregious sex-related crimes.
All, regardless of risk classification, are required to report to the state Department of Public Safety yearly to verify their place of residence and other personal information. Failure to do so is considered a felony punishable by up to four years in prison.
Offenders also must register with local police once they’re released from prison and whenever they move. Local police departments are then responsible for any community notification, and for keeping tabs on the offenders.
Police agencies in Reno and Las Vegas say they have fewer problems than the state in keeping track of sex offenders. They also say Nevada is in a better position than California, where a recent Associated Press study determined that state had lost track of nearly 33,000 of its registered sex offenders.
But Susan Cooper, executive director of the Rape Crisis Center in Las Vegas, says better tracking of the offenders is needed in Nevada.
“It shouldn’t be in their hands to register, because we know they’re not doing it,” said Cooper. “And there’s not enough personnel out there to track these people.”
Cooper said that while Nevada is better off than California, she’d like to see community notification for Tier 2 level offenders as well.
“Would it create problems? Probably for the offenders,” Cooper said. “But at the same time my priority as an advocate is to protect our victims.”
The case of Vincent Mark Santana of Las Vegas illustrates part of the problem. Santana is a Tier 3 offender convicted of numerous sexual crimes going back to 1980.
The state lost track of Santana until he was arrested last February on yet another sexual assault charge. He was acquitted in the case — but authorities charged him with failing to advise police of his whereabouts.
Clark County Deputy District Attorney Douglas Herndon said that without the additional charge, Santana could have gone free. Instead, he was convicted, a judge ruled he was a habitual criminal — and Santana was sentenced Thursday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Each year the state sends a letter to a registered offender’s last known address. Offenders must then return the form to the state verifying the information. If the letter isn’t returned, the offender is considered out of compliance.
“In order for the system to work, there has to be an expectation of cooperation (from the offenders),” said Kim Evans, information officer for the Department of Public Safety.
Detective Adam Wygnanski of the Reno Police Department’s regional sex offender unit said he thinks offenders within Reno and Washoe County try to comply with state notification regulations, in part because they know some people have been prosecuted and sent back to prison for violating the law.
Wygnanski also said he knows where each of the Tier 3 offenders are in his jurisdiction, as well as most of the Tier 2 and Tier 1 offenders.
He agreed, however, with Evans’ assessment of the regulatory flaw in expecting offenders to continually update police.
Las Vegas Police Lt. Jeff Carlson of the sexual assault detail said he’d support public notification on all sex offenders, even at the Tier 1 level. But he said opposition to that change would be strong, especially from civil rights groups.
Las Vegas police maintain a Web site that posts photos and addresses of Tier 3 offenders. The department has jurisdiction over 17 current Tier 3 offenders, but the department can’t locate at least three of them, Carlson acknowledged.
Metro also oversees 993 Tier 1 offenders and 836 Tier 2 offenders. Carlson said he thinks most of the lower-level offenders are in compliance, though he has no way to be sure.
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