Sex Offender Awareness: Notices Meant To Inform, Not Frighten

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Payson has more than 30 registered sex offenders living within town limits, according to police records.

But only five will show up under a Payson zip code search on the state's official sex offender notification website.

"That's because only sex offenders designated as level 2 and 3 will show up on the web page," said Detective Matt Van Camp of the Payson Police Department. "Those are the levels that require public notification."

In June of 1996, Arizona adopted its version of "Megan's Law" which includes a community notification process when a sex offender is released from jail or prison, or when they are on probation.

Detective Van Camp coordinates the sex offender notification process for the town of Payson.

"When a sex offender moves into the county, or within 10 days of conviction, they have to register with the sheriff of the county where they are going to live," Van Camp said.

Once identified, an assessment is done to determine his or her risk factor, and the offender is assigned a level between 0 and 3.

"What that level represents is the risk of reoffending," Van Camp explained. "A zero, which is the lowest level, requires registration only, and no community notification. Level 1 is a low risk to the community. Level 2 is an intermediate risk to the community. Level 3 is a high risk."

The preliminary assessments are currently made by Detective George Ratliff of the sheriff's department and are based on information about the offender's case and his or her behavior while incarcerated.

"Because we like to be aware of who is moving into the community, I am scheduled to take the sex offender assessment training myself," Van Camp said. "This will give the Payson Police department a better sense on how to handle each case."

Regardless of what level of risk is originally assigned, the chief of police has the authority, by state law, to change the level up or down as circumstances or observed behavior may dictate.

"In Payson, we are treating level 2 and level 3 offenders with the same notification process, which includes neighborhood fliers," Van Camp said. "The fliers are also distributed to our public schools and notices are sent to the local media. We also give one to the sex offender to let him or her know what the flier looks like. We try to make sure they know exactly what we're doing so it's no surprise."

Van Camp emphasized the purpose of the fliers and media notices.

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Potential victims of sex offenders are likely to be children who are poor, neglected, loners or runaways.

"We're not trying to instill fear in the community, we're just trying to inform -- because an informed community is a safer community," Van Camp said.

For parents like Josh and Heather Nothaft of Payson, the sex offender notifications are one more tool to help them protect their family.

"It's just for the safety of our children," Heather said. "It keeps us informed so we can keep a better eye on our children."

"It's about awareness," Josh said. "Awareness so that when your children are playing outside you know who your neighbors are."

The Nothafts said they believed the process is fair to sex offenders.

"They did this and they need to be held accountable," Heather said.

"It's not something that needs to be fair," Josh said. "As parents, we have the right to know."

Van Camp explained that notification is designed to help parents exercise basic safety precautions, but should not be abused.

"One concern we have as a police department is citizens trying to threaten, intimidate, or harass a sex offender in order to force them out of their neighborhood. This behavior is considered criminal activity and won't be tolerated. These individuals still need to have a chance to live a normal, productive life."

Anyone with concerns about the sex offender notification process can call Detective Van Camp at (928) 474-5177, ext. 251.

Residents can also log onto the Department of Public Safety Sex Offender Info Center website at www.azsexoffender.com.

What is Megan's Law?

Megan Kanka was 7 years old when a twice-convicted sex offender, living across the street from her home, brutally raped and murdered her. The crime occurred in New Jersey. In 1994, Governor Christine Todd Whitman signed "Megan's Law" requiring convicted sex offenders to register with local police. The law further establishes a system of notification to the public. President Clinton signed the law in May 1996.

Source: About.com

Sex offender facts and characteristics

  • Arizona has approximately 11,000 registered sex offenders.
  • Sex offenders come from all walks of life and from all socio-economic groups. They can be male or female, rich or poor, employed or unemployed, religious or non-religious, educated or uneducated, and from any race.
  • Although some sex offenders are strangers and stalkers, many know the victim as a family member, friend, or neighbor. They win a child's trust and then take advantage of that trust.
  • Potential victims are likely to be children who are poor, neglected, loners or runaways.
  • Many pedophiles seek out mothers of single parent families for the purpose of victimizing children.
  • Sex offenders often like playgrounds and other places where children congregate.
  • Most sex offenders groom their victims prior to any crime.

Source: Arizona Department of Public Safety

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