Now for the first time in Minnesota, there is a law that will provide each member of the community with needed information about released sex offenders.
Until now the public has been left largely in the dark as to who these people are and where they go when they leave prison. This ignorance has sometimes had tragic consequences, not only for prior and future victims of the released offender, but sometimes for the offender as well.
Minnesota law now provides the opportunity for the local law enforcement agency to provide its community with the kind information it needs to make good decisions with regard to the safety and welfare of its citizens and their children.
The soon-to-be released sex offender is required, by law, to register with local authorities, and to keep authorities apprised of any subsequent changes in residence. This information is kept and maintained on a computer system by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. It provides law enforcement agencies with essential information as to the nature and whereabouts of certain convicted criminals who reside in their jurisdictions.
In 1996, the Minnesota Legislature passed a law requiring every law enforcement agency in the state to have policies for disseminating information about the location and residence of certain sex offenders to the public. This law reflects growing national awareness of the problems communities have faced because they did not have adequate information concerning sex offenders in their midst. On May 17, 1996, President Clinton signed a similar new federal law, which has been widely discussed in the press under the title "Megan's Law." The federal law is not as comprehensive as the Minnesota law, but shows that the need for such a law is felt throughout the entire country.
The Minnesota law requires every law enforcement agency in the state to adopt a policy by January 1, 1997, which is the same or similar to the model policy presented here.
The Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) was directed by this legislation to develop a model policy for law enforcement agencies to follow when they disclose information on sex offenders to the public. According to the legislation:
"... The model policy must be designed to further the objectives of providing adequate notice to the community concerning sex offenders who are or will be residing in the neighborhood and of helping community members develop constructive plans to prepare themselves and their children for residing near these sex offenders."
To develop this model policy, the Legislature directed the board to consult with representatives of:
"...the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, The Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, the Minnesota Sheriffs Association, the Minnesota Association of Women Police, The Minnesota Sex Crimes Investigators Association, The Minnesota Police and Peace Officer Association, The Minnesota Institute of Community Policing, the County Attorneys Association, the Commissioner of Corrections, local corrections agencies, the state Public Defender, sex offender treatment professionals, victims groups, and interested members of the public."
To this end, the POST Board convened representatives of these groups and began to meet in April, 1996. Detective Robert Shilling of the Seattle Police Department, a nationally recognized authority in the area of community notification, was brought to the Twin Cities in early May to share his experience with the committee and to answer questions from the public and the press. Detective Shilling had earlier been instrumental in helping to get the Minnesota community notification legislation passed.
It is important to understand that community notification is basically an educational process that takes place in two distinct phases: pre-release of the offender, and post-release.
The soon-to-be-released offender is assigned one of three risk categories by a committee convened at the correctional facility. This committee is made up of professionals from corrections and law enforcement, sex-offender treatment, and victim's services. This assessment is based on the type and severity of the crime the individual was convicted of, whether that crime involved violence, the prisoner's general amenability to treatment, and overall psychological condition. Risk Level 1 represents low-risk (i.e., least likely to repeat offenses); Level 2 is medium risk; and Level 3 is most likely to repeate offenses.
Two separate "fact sheets" will be sent to the law enforcement agency about each offender.
The Saint Paul Police Department will receive-a packet of information from the (DOC) about an individual's before the release is to take place. This information will include the DOC's recommendation of risk level. Supporting documentation to explain this determination is also sent. If your police department doesn't agree with DOC's recommendation, there is an appeals process which it can initiate.
Two fact-sheets will be part of this release information. One fact sheet is detailed information on the offender to be used by the agency itself or to be shared with other agencies. This fact-sheet will include non-public information. The other is a one page offender fact-sheet with a photograph of the offender, that can be distributed to the public. This may be as freely duplicated and distributed as the agency desires.
Risk Level determines what kind of notification is to take place.
It is important to understand that community notification under Minnesota law encompasses individuals of all three risk categories. This is what sets Minnesota's community notification law apart from similar laws of other states. Each department's notification policy must address the question of how individuals at each risk category are to be handled.
Whenever possible, a notification plan will be prepared by the Chief Law Enforcement Officer at least 14 days prior to the release of the individual offender.
The Chief Law Enforcement Officer of each agency determines what kind of notification should take place in a specific instance, and how it is to be done, based on guidelines set in the policy.
Thorough community notification, including a community meeting, should be done for most Level 3 offenders. The model policy requires local law enforcement agencies to document if a meeting is not held in a level-three release. (There may be situations, such as, the offender relocating within the same jurisdiction, where another meeting may not be warranted.)
For Level 1 releases, law enforcement agencies share information with other law enforcement agencies and with victims and witnesses.
With Level 2 offenders, the policy suggests that schools and daycare providers be notified, along with establishments and organizations that primarily serve individuals likely to be victimized.
Part of community notification is aimed at ensuring that the rights of the offender be safeguarded. The department policy must address the offender's right to be free from harassment or criminal acts committed by community residents because of the notification process. Abuse of this information by threatening, harassing or intimidating registered offenders may be a crime, and will not be tolerated. Such abuses could potentially end the ability of law enforcement to do these notifications. The only person who wins if community notification ends is the sex offender since many of these offenders derive their power from the opportunity that secrecy provides them.