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Until very recently, Missouri's sex-offender registry functioned like a factory with a single product.Regardless of the crime they'd committed, the state treated everyone on it like a potential predator, placing thousands of people on a single lifetime registry with strict 90-day check-ins, residency restrictions and virtually no chance of removal.If a local police department doesn't apply for warrants or fails to identify non-compliant offenders, there's no way for another agency to pick up the slack.If an officer pulls over a non-compliant offender for a traffic violation, he won't know to take action. "Things are falling through the cracks and the laws are not being enforced," Galloway said.She testified before the legislature in favor of the bill that instituted separate tiers to Missouri's sex offender laws. Henry believes the public sex offender registry — the database allows anyone to see offenders' mugshots and addresses, not just law enforcement — should be abolished. She says that Galloway's audit reinforces the faulty assumption that harsh restrictions are the only thing keeping the offenders from recommitting heinous crimes.In reality, though, the subject of sex offender recidivism is contentious, and even U. Supreme Court decisions on the matter have been called into question for relying on shoddy (or nonexistent) evidence.That system changed in August, when Governor Mike Parson signed into law a bill mandating a new multi-tiered system that can distinguish between, for example, a violent sexual assault and possession of child pornography, or statutory rape and public urination.
The audit places the blame firmly on the shoulders of local law enforcement agencies, which are supposed to keep track of all offenders in their jurisdiction and ensure that they're checking in regularly. In a press conference yesterday, Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway noted that the publicly accessible database of sex offenders — a system managed by the Missouri State Highway Patrol — contains numerous inaccuracies, at times incorrectly labeling offenders compliant when they are not.And the sheer size of Missouri's registry seems to have overwhelmed the system.According to an audit released yesterday, the state cannot account for 1,259 sex offenders.But she worries that these local departments — which are already struggling to accomplish basic data entry — aren't ready to handle the new tasks needed to accomplish the legislature's reforms.For example, the new law requires the Highway Patrol update its public registry to show an individual offender's tier.
Yet the audit found that warrants have not been issued for 91 percent of non-compliant offenders.