With homicides so commonplace they often are relegated to the back page, sex offenses are largely under the radar.
While they are always important to victims and their families – and there is never a case in which forced sex is OK, whether date rape or child abuse – from time to time these cases rise to the level where the rest of us can’t help but pay attention.
A couple examples in recent years: the bust of a sex-trafficking ring operating out of local hotels and an Albuquerque couple accused of prostituting their 7-year-old daughter for drugs.
That’s why it’s reassuring lawmakers decided it’s important for community protection to keep tabs on convicted sex offenders – and to give you access to the key information.
Under New Mexico law, people convicted of any of 13 offenses ranging from criminal sexual penetration to sexual exploitation of children are required to register with their local sheriff’s office within 10 days of being released from jail or prison or being placed on probation or parole. Sex offenders convicted in other states who move here are required to do the same. They are required to let the local sheriff know when they change jobs or move to a new address.
The Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office has a unit dedicated to monitoring sex offenders, the vast majority of whom follow the law. On the flip side, it’s worrisome that warrants had been issued for more than two dozen absconders/noncompliant offenders BCSO says should be considered armed and dangerous.
While the registry helps law enforcement keep tabs on people convicted of sex crimes, another important reason for this system is to alert the public. If a convicted sex offender lives on your block, you are entitled to know that. Ditto for your place of employment, businesses you frequent and a community college or university you might attend.
The city of Albuquerque has a sex offender lookup function on its website, searchable by last name or ZIP code. “Recognizing that it is impossible to notify every citizen about a sex offender’s presence in their community, this site will enable you to obtain information and take the necessary precautions,” the website says. “Providing the public with information regarding convicted sex offenders is a crucial step toward encouraging (members of) the public to protect themselves from future acts.”
The city cautions, as it should, that the information should not be used to harass or intimidate. Sex offenders who follow the rules and don’t reoffend should be able to live in peace. That’s not in conflict with the DPS statement that it hopes its statewide sex offender registry “will increase and promote public awareness.”
There are several thousand convicted sex offenders in New Mexico, and the “absconder” issue was brought home locally by an insert placed in the Albuquerque Journal on Aug. 31 by BCSO with photos, names and description of its 26 “Most Wanted Sex Offenders.”
Failure to comply with the state’s sex offender registry requirements is a fourth-degree felony, and the job of tracking down this category of fugitive falls to BCSO’s Sex Offender and Tracking Unit, or “SORT.” The unit is operating under the direction of Sgt. Charles Holmes and has six detectives – five from BCSO and one from APD.
As of last week, a BCSO spokesman said, the unit was monitoring 1,325 offenders, with 29 listed as absconder or noncompliant. The unit gets two to four new offenders per week, and the information complied in the registry is extensive, from fingerprints to DNA to physical descriptions, including tattoos.
While the SORT unit cautions that the public should never attempt to apprehend anyone on its list, it welcomes tips to 468-7678 or to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile, if you have a question about a person or what offenders may be in your ZIP code, look it up.
Or you can confidentially sign up for an alert on the city website if a registered sex offender moves within one mile of your address. The registry and site are there for your protection. You should feel free to use them.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.