Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

It's Up to Us...Every One of Us

In the wake of the Wolf Lodge murders, kidnappings, and sexual attacks on two minor children, state and federal legislators will be rushing to be first in line, or to at least be publicly recognizable in the line, to write or endorse legislation making violent crimes with a sexual component even more illegal than they already are.

The problem is that the laws do not persuade or convince violent offenders not to offend. They are criminals. They offend. That's what they do. Jacob's Law, Megan's Law, and Carissa's Law did not dissuade Joseph Duncan from committing his crimes. Had Dru's Law been in effect, it wouldn't have caused Duncan or other any active, dormant, or latent child molester to say, "Gee, I'd better not do this."

Which is not to say legislation cannot be effective in helping to prevent these crimes. It can. Legislation that makes the non-deviant rest of us more alert, more aware, and more proactive in prevention will make it harder for the likes of Gary Ridgeway, Robert Yates, Dennis Rader, and Joseph Duncan to operate undetected. Simply put, we need to be educated to be more alert for pre-incident behaviors that arouse our suspicion. We also need to be taught how to document and promptly report those behaviors we observe. And intervention agencies, usually law enforcement agencies, need to be required to take these reports seriously and to respond promptly and appropriately.

Joseph Duncan's case will be a useful educational tool. It should educate legislators to recognize what many in the criminal justice system have known for years: One cannot rely on statistical analysis of past behaviors to reliably predict any particular individual's future behavior.

Duncan's case should convince legislators who may be a bit uncomfortable talking about "sex" that while sexual gratification may be an important element for the offender, it is nothing less than a violent crime for the victim. The “sexual” component of the offender’s behavior must not obscure, minimize, or rationalize the violence inflicted on the victim. It’s only about “sex” for the offender.

Duncan's case should educate legislators to understand that self-reporting (e.g., registration) by offenders will be effective only if the offender is already committed to compliance.

Duncan's case should educate legislators to recognize that sexual predation is a national problem that requires national cooperation with, not domination over, state and local involvement. It is a national public health problem as well as a criminal justice problem that must be addressed nationally in cooperation with state and local governments. NIH and CDC need to be involved federally.

Duncan's case should educate all of us that sexual predators are individuals with very individual behaviors, including “normal” behaviors. They do not consistently fit meaningful profiles. Each case of predation must be assessed individually, not lumped together in one-size-fits-all. Trying to shortcut criminal investigations with behavioral profiling is effectively putting on blinders. Behavioral profiling may help investigators structure suspect interviews, searches, and surveillances, but it is less successful in helping initially identify suspects.

Legislators must recognize that legislatively imposed offender classifications cannot tell the whole story about what is in the makeup of the offender. For example, a “young and stupid” man of 20 who engages in voluntary, cooperative sexual intercourse with a girl of 17 may not belong in the same category as an equally “young and stupid” man who forces himself involuntarily on a girl of 17.

Still, if classification and assessment are essential in trying to control predatory sexual offenders, then the standards and categories for classification and assessment need to be consistent between states. There needs to be federal funding for research into better assessment and classification methods.

Periodic reassessment of offenders to upgrade or downgrade the offender’s classification is essential. Downgrading includes complete removal from system when warranted. Why should anyone be removed? To ensure public resources are focused where the greatest need is – on those likely to reoffend and those too dangerous to ever be out of custody. Decisions to upgrade or downgrade an offender should be influenced but not controlled by interaction and feedback from criminal justice system.

Current offender registration system in states is ineffective given the mobility available to offenders. The gaps that allow offenders to drop out of sight must be closed. There must be mandatory check-out and check-in times when an offender leaves one jurisdiction and travels to another. The objective is to achieve real-time “handoff” tracking between states. “Timely” means now, not in an hour, a day, or a month.

The failure of an offender to check out or check in on time should be a federal offense and result in a federal arrest warrant sought by US Marshal’s Service and entered into NCIC. An "absent" offender must be presumed to be intentionally absent with the intent to commit a violent act.

There must be continuing supervision for offenders in any level if state’s assessor/evaluators deem it necessary for the public safety. Supervision continues after offender leaves one state and enters another until gaining state can personally reassess and reevaluate offender. This includes spontaneous, unannounced warrantless searches.

There must be federal funding and training for criminal justice agencies to establish and maintain networks that will “talk to each other” to register and track sexual offenders in real time and to enter any "change of status" immediately into a national database.

I would like to see federally funded mandatory and recurring education and training for certain public officials to prepare them to recognize sexual violence and predation and respond appropriately when they see it. Officials would include

  • Public safety and criminal justice system professionals including judges, prosecutors, public defenders, probation and parole agents, correction officers, law enforcement, fire service, emergency medical service
  • Public health professionals
  • City, county, and state elected officials and the department supervisors who support them
  • School boards

I would also like to see federally funded mandatory and recurring education and training for certain state licensees to prepare them to recognize sexual violence and predation and respond appropriately when they see it. Included in this group would be

  • Realtors (I would require that realtors provide prospective property buyers or renters with direction to and, if necessary, access to Dru’s Law database when it is finally established.
  • Lawyers
  • Private investigators
  • Locksmiths
  • School administrators and teachers, and certain others (e.g., bus drivers,
    counselors, etc.) who come into professional contact with students
  • Mental health professionals
  • Medical professionals (doctors, nurses, pharmacists)
  • Foster care and elder care residence managers and staff

    In Idaho, the Governor should elevate the importance of sexual offender registration and supervision to be at least equal status with methamphetamine, gangs, and prison population on the Governor’s Criminal Justice Commission.

    And finally, when indicated and after appropriate review, give states the authority to confine sexual predators in mental health custody facilities after state criminal justice constraints (jail, prison, probation, parole) have expired. This is primarily a mental health decision, not a criminal justice decision.

    As communities, we need to recognize that there are things we can do to make ourselves and our children less attractive to a predator looking for prey. We can be alert for and report behavior we find intuitively suspicious. We can keep garage doors closed and locked; the same with ground floor doors and windows. We can refuse to open our doors to people whom we do not recognize and trust.

    We can refuse to be victims, and we can refuse to allow those whom we love and care about to become victims.


    Blogger green libertarian said...

    Thanks Bill for your comprehensive analysis and commentary on this terrible problem.

    5:12 PM, July 14, 2005  
    Anonymous Bob said...

    Very thoughtful and thorough. I think you raise so many good points it's hard to address them all in a comment. I think broadening the scope of who is responsible for safety is critical, it cannot just be a law enforcement and parole issue anymore. Everyone has to be involved in place safety. I think a huge coordinated federal research initiative is key to learn more about a highly heterogenous group of offenders. SO's are nickle and diming our community souls to death. We keep flailing in the dark at them. Let's really focus. Finally, you raise a really critical and often missed point: learn to let go of the low risk ones...we burden our system with high levels of monitoring on ones that won't reoffend..nobody in the field (I can guarantee this because I work in it) wants to go on record as saying a SO is "low risk" and part of this is due to lack of effective predictive methods and part of it is just CYA.

    Thanks for writing this Bill. It's excellent.

    6:26 PM, July 14, 2005  

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