December 1, 2014

City notification to include KPD fliers, newspaper ads, website

12-1-2014 Tennessee:

KINGSPORT — The city of Kingsport plans to establish a community notification system where residents, schools and child-care facilities would be informed of newly arrived sex offenders in the city. Notification could come through fliers posted at the Kingsport Police Department, notices listed in local newspapers or posted to an online website.

Though the law allows for local law enforcement agencies to mail letters to residents informing them of sex offenders newly arrived to the neighborhood, by a recent action of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, that means of delivery will likely not be taking place.

The matter that went before the BMA earlier this month dealt with implementing the new notification system, in accordance with state law, and for the establishment of a new $50 fee to offset the cost of the notifications. The fee would be paid annually by the sex offender and be in addition to the $150 fee they already have to pay when moving to a new community.

"Currently, if someone wants to obtain information about sex offenders in Kingsport, what they have to do is go to the TBI website and navigate it, then go through the counties to find Sullivan," said Police Chief David Quillin. "This (new system) allows us to notify citizens in Kingsport in a couple of different manners and makes it easier to have the information. It allows (the department) to be a little more proactive."

One method discussed at a recent BMA work session is the creation of a website, specific to Kingsport, where the police department would post notifications of sex offenders moving into the region. Quillin said in the coming weeks, the department plans to push out a mobile app, where subscribers would have access to information about the police department, including a link to the sex offender listings.

The BMA, on a 6 to 1 vote, chose to remove the option of notifying residents about sex offenders via mailed letters from the ordinance governing the system.

Alderwoman Colette George, who made the push to remove the mailing option, said the written notifications could create liability issues for the property owner, the city and the police department.

"What we deal with on a day-to-day basis in real estate is sellers are required to disclose adverse facts about their home. Adverse facts are different in everybody's book," George said. "If I got written notice, threw it away and in six months decided to sell my house, it's probably not going to be something I remember. But I have received written notification. Someone could potentially come in and say your city has a policy, they notified you in writing, you didn't disclose it, therefore I'm suing you."

George said she would disclose such information to a buyer with small children, but with an older individual, the matter might not enter her mind as much.

"The disclosure form directs buyers to websites to research sex offenders. It's not the seller's job to do that," George said. "We tell them if this is important to you, you need to research it."

Alderman John Clark voted against removing the wording about mailed notifications, asking how someone like his mother, in her 80s with no access to the Internet, would know if a sex offender moves into the neighborhood.

"Is disclosure or notification more important? I think notification is what we're trying to do," Clark said.

Quillin said many of the sex offenders are transient in nature and if the department did mail notices to residents, the work would be time consuming and labor intensive.

George said there were other issues with the mailings: if there were rental properties would the letter go to the renter or the owner; and if the owners lived in other states, would it go to them or the residents.

"It's not the best way to notify people and it could put people in a bad situation without them realizing it," George said. "I just don't think the mail is the right method to tell people a sex offender has been released and moved into their area. I don't think it's the most effective, most realistic (method) and there's too many loopholes. It gives people a false sense of what's happening." ..Source.. by Matthew Lane

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