Sheriff's Office to join forces with other northwest Arkansas agencies in hunt for 1,000 sex offenders

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

An effort is underway to locate the 1,000 or so unregistered sex offenders believed to be living in Northwest Arkansas.

Ten law enforcement agencies from four counties have joined forces with the U.S. Marshals Service to get the job done, working with a $500,000 federal grant.

The Carroll County Sheriff's Office is among those participating, with Sheriff Bob Grudek serving on the task force board of directors.

He said the Benton County Sheriff's Office received the grant, which was to address violent crimes and sex offenders.

"Initially, homicides were to be included, but after the first of our two meetings, it was understood that most of the large departments could handle their own violent crimes," he said. "Our focus now, is to locate unregistered sex offenders in Northwest Arkansas.

"It is believed there are well over 1,000 living here unregistered," he continued. "The task force made its first arrest last week."

Task force participants include city police departments in Fayetteville, Bentonville, Springdale, Rogers and Siloam Springs, plus sheriff's departments in Benton, Washington, Madison and Carroll counties.

Grudek said the U.S. Marshals Service is in charge of operations, and two individuals from each law enforcement agency have been assigned to the operational team. Capt. Alan Hoos and Investigator Mike Belzner were chosen to represent the CCSO, Grudek said.

As such, they will work with the Marshals Service, in addition to working with their own departments.

The bulk of the grant money, more than $336,000, is earmarked for overtime and vehicle usage.

All persons convicted of sex crimes must register with their local law enforcement agency, and re-register annually, Grudek said, and if a person fails to re-register, and they can't be located, a warrant is issued for their arrest. All of those warrants are entered into the crime information network.

The Marshal's Service will be working from that data and from information gleaned from other sources, he said, to locate those who aren't in the system as they should be.

"They got the task force going because there are so many in this area," Grudek said. "Currently, we are gathering data and identifying problem areas."

At present, there are 776 sex offenders in the four-county area listed on the Arkansas Crime Information Center's Web site.

Capt. Hoos said each person convicted of a sex crime is assigned a risk factor number, a procedure previously handled by the courts, but now done by an assessment person or team through the Arkansas Department of Correction.

Those who move to Arkansas from another state are re-assessed -- the assessment does not transfer state to state.

The risk factor number is based on the face-to-face interview, background information, and mitigating factors, such as the possibility of the offender re-offending, Hoos said. It is not based necessarily on the crime itself, but on the interview process.

A Level 1 sex offender is considered low risk; Level 2 a moderate risk; Level 3 a high risk, and Level 4 offenders are classified as sexually violent predators.

Information on Level 1 and Level 2 offenders is kept confidential.

"The information is not available to the general public," Hoos explained, "but they must register, the process is still the same, and notification is made to the household where the offender resides."

It's a different story for Level 3 and Level 4 offenders.

Their names, addresses, date of birth and photographs are posted on the bulletin board in the lobby at the sheriff's office, and on the ACIC Web site.

In addition, their names are given out to anyone calling the sheriff's office to find out if there is a sex offender living in their neighborhood.

Hoos said the notification procedure for Level 4 offenders includes the distribution of informational flyers to community members.

As an example, he said when a Level 4 offender moved to Alpena, he personally distributed a photo flyer to the offender's neighbors, to nearby businesses, and to school officials.

"I told them this was not to alarm or to entice vigilantism," he said, "and I advised them not to post the flyer in public view -- it was for their information."

Hoos said he would like to step up and expand the notification process, something he's been hard-pressed to do because of time constraints.

"I'd like to make notification to the household," he explained. "Personal home visits are planned, and while there, I'd like to assess the neighborhood to see if small children are there and notify the neighbors face-to-face. It's been something I've wanted to do for some time -- and, it's time to do it."

Currently, Hoos said he has a number of sex offenders who have not been classified yet, and two known sex offenders who have not registered as required. "We have to document a good faith effort of looking for them before a warrant can be issued," he explained.

According to Hoos, there are three Level 4 "sexually violent predators" registered in the county, and another 24 "high risk" Level 3 offenders.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: