July 7, 2010

Public safety not always served under sex offender law

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

A huge gap in the public’s notification process of when a sexual offender moves into a community has  both the residents of Watford City and the city’s law enforcement officials upset.
When two sexual offenders moved into Watford City the first part of June, area residents were not only concerned that these convicted sexual offenders were living in their neighborhoods, they were also upset that there was no public notification that these individuals were in the community.
“The whole process of public notification when sexual offenders move into a community is about public safety,” says Slade Herfindahl, Watford City chief of police. “But there is a huge gap in the process that definitely does not serve the public’s safety.”
The gap, according to Herfindahl, is the time that it takes law enforcement officials to receive the sexual offender’s risk level.
“When a sexual offender moves into any North Dakota community from out of state, they do not have a risk level assigned to them,” states Herfindahl. “Therefore we, as law enforcement, cannot release the information on those sexual offenders to the public until we have that risk classification.”
The state Sex Offender Risk Assignment Committee (SORAC), according to Herfindahl, is responsible for assigning the risk level to sexual offenders who move to North Dakota from other states or from a federal prison.
“Until SORAC completes their assessment of the sexual offender and assigns that individual a risk level, we sit in a very vulnerable position as a community,” states Herfindahl.
According to information the McKenzie County Farmer obtained from the North Dakota Attorney General’s web site, there are two sexual offenders currently living in Watford City who have not been classified. One of the offenders, Dustin James Moe, is currently living in the Ensign Man Camp located in the 200 block of 3rd Avenue SW and the other, James Edward Wilkes, is currently living in the Watford City Tourist Park.
“One of these sexual offenders registered with our office when they moved into Watford City on June 9 and the other registered on June 15,” states Herfindahl. As of Wednesday, June 28, no risk level had been assigned to either of these two sexual offenders by SORAC.
“I’m going to do as much as I can to notify the public of the sexual offenders in our community,” stated Herfindahl. “But my hands are tied by the process.”
Sexual offenders, according to Herfindahl, must register with local law enforcement within three days of arriving in a community. And if they leave the community they again must notify law enforcement.
“We don’t have a problem with the risk levels of sexual offenders who are currently living in North Dakota,” states Herfindahl. “Whenever these individuals move to other communities in North Dakota, the public notification process is immediate.”
But it is the process of dealing with out-of-state sexual offenders who move into the state that Herfindahl would like to see changed.
“I would like to see it be required that before these out-of-state sexual offenders can move into North Dakota that their classification is updated,” says Herfindahl. “They know that they are coming to North Dakota so they should have all of the paper-work done with SORAC prior to their moving into the state.”
That change, according to Herfindahl, would allow law enforcement agencies to be able to immediately notify the public whenever any sexual offender moves into a community.
But until the process of establishing the risk level of sexual offenders moving into North Dakota is changed, Herfindahl advises community residents to be watchful.
“I strongly encourage people concerned with the possibility of sexual offenders in their neighborhood to check North Dakota’s sexual offender web site at www.sexualoffender.nd.gov,” states Herfindahl. “And if people believe that they know of an unregistered sex offender living in the community contact the Watford City Police Department at 444-2400 immediately.”
“We are doing everything that we can to monitor the sexual offenders living in our community,” states Herfindahl. “And once we get the risk assessment from SORAC, we will immediately notify the public via all of the area’s news media.”