October 24, 2010

Dallas police 'erred badly' in turning away sex offenders who sought to register

10-24-2010 Texas:

Sex offenders who must update their registration with the Dallas police have been routinely turned away after waiting outside the department door for hours.

"I've got to abide by the law or they put me back in prison," said one offender who asked not to be identified.

Department spokesman C.L. Williams said the department "erred badly" by limiting the number of registrants to about three dozen a day in recent weeks, a short-term response to a manpower shortage during the State Fair of Texas. On one recent day, a small waiting room was packed and lines snaked down to the sidewalk outside the Jack Evans Police Headquarters. Similar scenes had been reported in recent weeks.

After the problem was called to its attention, the department stopped turning offenders away before they are registered.

Dallas residents shouldn't be "alarmed that there are large numbers of offenders in the general public who are out there unregistered because of this error," Williams said.

He estimated that only a few offenders out of the approximately 3,100 the department oversees may be out of compliance with the registration law. He said he was not aware of any arrests for noncompliance and said officers would be "looking closer" at arrest warrants for failure to register in the next few months to make sure no one is picked up after being turned away.

"For those that may have been caught up in this circumstance, been harmed by it, the message I have to them is, 'We'll look very closely at individual situations,' " he said. "We're not intent on putting people in jail for minor transgressions of the registration compliance if there's some reasonable explanation."

The decision to limit the number of registrants was implemented during the State Fair, Williams said, when two of four officers were temporarily reassigned to work the fairgrounds. Hours had been reduced earlier this summer as part of overall budget cuts, and Williams said that with four staffers again working to register the offenders, the department should be able to keep up.

Though the department is at fault for closing the doors early – and sometimes for several days for staff training – "it doesn't alleviate anybody else from their obligation to register," Williams said. "There is enough grace period that if you miss a date, you've got time to get back in."

Most offenders have 30 days before and after their annual registration date to comply with the law. Higher-risk offenders, who may be required to register quarterly, have a seven-day grace period. When changing jobs or moving, offenders have seven days before the change to notify authorities in person.

But some offenders say returning repeatedly to register has been difficult. Those who are employed have angered bosses who need them at work. For those who are unemployed, the cost of bus fare or gas to get to the sole downtown location can be a burden.

Ray Garcia, 25, showed up to notify the department of a change of address, only to be told to "come back on a later date." When he returned earlier this week, "I got here at 7 o'clock, and the line was all the way down there," he said, motioning to a sidewalk about 30 feet away.

The office is open on a first-come, first-served basis three days a week, 2 ½ hours a day.

Though he's been convicted before of failing to register, Garcia says he's trying to comply with the law.

Frustrated, he finally phoned the department while waiting outside. "I want you to tell me how I can fix this problem without violating my registration," he told the officer. The officer didn't have a solution other than to keep waiting, Garcia said.

Garcia said he told his probation officer about the problem, and others on parole said they, too, had notified their parole officers.

Spokespeople for probation and parole agencies said they were aware of the problem and had been assured it was being addressed.

"There's two issues," said Teresa May-Williams, assistant director of the Dallas County Community Supervision and Corrections Department. "One, the public needs to know and be aware of the sex offenders in their area. Two, we do not want to see problems with the clients trying to comply with their orders and the law as well due to some kind of system failure.

"They've assured us they're working on it," she said. ..Source.. DIANE JENNINGS


Anonymous said...

If people who are registoring now think they are having problems wait until the Adam Walsh Act is put in place. Only 3 days to registor. And more S.O. will have to registor. What a great thing this country of elected people who do not even know what they are doing.

Anonymous said...

What these sex offenders need to do is not register all 700,000 of them.This country doesnt have the resources to inprison all of them.

Anonymous said...

I think Anonymous has a point. 700,000 registrants would make a big impact. Include family and other friends and supporters it would be even bigger.
We need some way of civil disobedience.