Sex Offenders Can Run But They Can't Hide

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The incident at Payson's community swimming pool in which a man allegedly attempted to molest a boy in the rest room, has parents on alert to potential predators.

The Rim country area has about 31 registered sex offenders, according to Gila County Sheriff's Det. George Ratliff.

Ratliff is responsible for registering and tracking all the sex offenders in the county.

"I took the job over about seven years ago," Ratliff said. "At that time, the county was not doing it well and people were not being properly notified."

Community notification of sex offenders is a result of Megan's Law, federal legislation passed in 1996.

Since June 1996, the community and immediate neighbors are notified of level three sex offenders through fliers and the news media. The immediate neighborhood is notified about level two sex offenders and anyone cohabitating with a level one sex offender is notified.

"The laws are changing," Ratliff said. "We will soon be notifying the whole community about level two sex offenders as well."

"Sex offenders are assigned a level from one to three -- three being the highest risk," Payson Police Sgt. Tom Tieman said. "There are 15 pages worth of questions related to their history and their offenses. A series of characteristics are measured in points and that determines what level they are."

Ratliff assigns a risk level to many sex offenders. Ratliff said that if a gun was used in the offense, it automatically makes the offender a level three.

"It shows violence and threats were used during the offense," Ratliff said.

Payson Police Det. Matt Van Camp is assigned the task of neighborhood notification of the presence of a registered sex offender.

"Most of the level three offenders in our area have reoffended and are back in prison," Van Camp said. "They haven't necessarily reoffended by committing a sex offense, but by committing some kind of other crime or violating their probation conditions.

According to the Arizona Department of Public Safety's website www.azsexoffender.com, which lists all level two and three sex offenders and gives their addresses, there are four level two sex offenders in Payson, two in Pine, two in Young and one level three sex offender in Roosevelt.

Payson, until recently had three level three sex offenders, all of whom are back in prison for reoffending or violating their probation.

Van Camp said he reads through the files of each sex offender the county registers and if he believes their level should be increased, he goes to Payson Police Chief Gordy Gartner.

"I do a full history check and read all the police reports of what they did and what their convictions are," Van Camp said. I can go to the chief and say the person should be a level three. The chief has the authority under state law to modify any sex offenders level who lives in his jurisdiction."

"I have changed a lot of them," Ratliff said. "I'll run a criminal history check and whenever I can bump it up, I will. The risk assessment is based on facts mainly."

Another law will be coming into effect in the near future. At the beginning of the month Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano signed a bill into law that expands Arizona's community notification program by registering those who were convicted prior to June of 1996. This move will add thousands of offenders who are now defined as level zero to the state registry.

Ratliff said in Arizona, sex offenders must be registered for a lifetime, whereas in some states such as Georgia, they are only required to register for three years.

Protecting children from predators

Gartner said the best thing parents can do is talk to their children about what to do if an adult is acting inappropriately.

"Parents should talk to their children about being alert and aware of their surroundings," Gartner said. "Let them know that it's OK to say no if someone touches them inappropriately."

"Our school resource officers give presentations that deal with the concept of good touch, bad touch," Tieman said. "Kids need to know that if they feel uncomfortable with the way they are being touched, to let someone they trust know what happened."

Abuse at home

Circumstances become more difficult for a victim if the perpetrator is someone in their own home.

"A lot of abuse happens in the home," Tieman said. "The child will often tell another family member or a teacher.

"Many of our cases have come through the schools, counselors and child protective services."

According to DPS, pedophiles often seek single parents for the sole purpose of victimizing their children.

Van Camp and Ratliff agree that recidivism among sex-offenders, in particular child molesters, is very high.

"From my personal experience and training, I believe there is no help available for child molesters," Van Camp said. "I haven't read any studies that say counseling will definitely stop this person from molesting again.

"They've done thousands of interviews with child molesters in prison and their goal is to get out and find their next victim."

What levels mean

Level Three: Notification shall be made to the surrounding neighborhood, area schools, appropriate community groups and prospective employers. Notification shall include a flier with the offender's photograph and exact address as well as a summary of the status and criminal background. A press release and level three flier shall be given to the media.

Level Two: The notification may be made to the immediate neighbors, schools and appropriate community groups and prospective employers. The notification may include a flier with a photo and address of the general area where the offender will be residing, as well as a brief general summary of the offender's status and criminal background.

Level One: Local law enforcement agency responsible for notification shall maintain info about the offender. They may disseminate information to other law enforcement agencies and may give notification to the people with whom the offender resides.

(Source: Arizona Department of Public Safety)

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