Estimates that 2,000 registered sex offenders evacuated the Gulf Coast during Hurricane Katrina have prompted swift action in some states, while officials in others say they’ve already been trying to monitor the offenders.
The office of Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue asked the state’s Bureau of Investigation to contact Louisiana to get that state’s sex offender registry.
“We are receiving that list tonight, and we are making the same request of the state of Mississippi,” spokeswoman Heather Hedrick said Friday. “The GBI is going to work on a plan to track down any of those registered sex offenders who may be in the state of Georgia.”
Meanwhile, in West Virginia, officials said the state police had fingerprinted evacuees when they arrived. They found three people who were ordered to put their names on the state’s sex offender registry.
“That was the situation we were mindful of from the very beginning,” said Lara Ramburg, spokeswoman for Gov. Joe Manchin. “That’s one of the reasons we kept track of people entering West Virginia.”
Watching and monitoring
Federal officials said Friday that they’ve put in place a system that would allow states to locate the registered sex offenders they believe left the Gulf region during the hurricane’s mayhem and may have vanished from legally required tracking.
“When sex offenders know they’re being watched, when they know they’re being monitored, they are less likely to offend again,” said Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and families at the federal Health and Human Services Department. “When they no longer believe they are being monitored or watched, they can be tempted to offend again.”
The federal Administration for Children and Families estimated that about 30 states are affected. In November, agency officials matched the names on sex offender registries in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama with the names of evacuees who applied for disaster assistance.
The agency came up with more than 2,000 matches.
All states are required to have sex offender registries, and people convicted of sexually violent offenses are required to register their addresses.
Horn wrote to the nation’s 50 governors in late November to alert them to database searches they could undertake with FEMA, and the process they were to use.
“I am greatly concerned that known sex offenders who may have relocated to your state may take advantage of their anonymity and harm children once again,” Horn wrote in a letter to Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
The letter indicated that Texas law enforcement officials had already done a cross-check.
Federal authorities told Texas of 304 known sex offenders who had relocated to the state. Only 14 are known to have registered and provided their contact information to law enforcement, said Jerry Strickland, spokesman for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.
An additional inquiry that Texas authorities conducted with the National Crime Information Center found 188 people wanted in connection with other crimes. The attorney general’s fugitive unit identified 29 Louisiana fugitives on the FEMA list who were wanted for or convicted of violent crimes. Those fugitives included three wanted for homicide, seven for assault and aggravated assault, and seven for rape or sexual offenses.
States were not required to report back to the agency with their findings, so it’s unclear how many have acted on the federal government’s initiative. Some, however, had acted on their own.
Alabama ran criminal background checks on Katrina evacuees living in temporary housing in Alabama’s 13 state parks. The state had about a dozen registered sex offenders who applied for FEMA assistance. Four did not notify law enforcement of their status as required by law, and they were arrested.
Massachusetts conducted criminal background checks and found one man wanted on a warrant for rape. Two other men would have been required to register as sex offenders but opted to leave the state instead.
Florida officials wrote to FEMA in mid-December requesting information on evacuated sexual offenders who may have relocated in Florida during the past year’s hurricanes. The state has yet to get a response on its request.