DC and National Sex Offender Registries

This Radio Program is available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/?p=37

[Audio Begins]

Leonard Sipes: Hi and welcome to D.C. Public Safety, I am your host Len Sipes. The program today is about the Sex Offender Registry in the District of Columbia and some of the larger issues about sex offender registries throughout the country. With us today, we have Stephanie Gray, she is a specialist with the Sex Offender Registry for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. And we have Sergeant Robert Panizari, he is a sergeant unit supervisor for the Sex Offender Unit with the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington D.C. And to Stephanie and to Bob, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Stephanie Gray: Good morning.

Robert Panizari: Good morning.

Leonard Sipes: Now did I get your name right, Bob?

Robert Panizari: Yes you did.

Leonard Sipes: All right, good. It’s Panizari, okay-I practiced that before the program. We’re talking about sex offender registries-now it’s interesting that virtually every state in the United States has a Sex Offender Registry, there is a National Sex Offender Registry as well maintained by the U.S. Department of Justice. In sex offender registries throughout the country, and I’ll speak from my experience in the state of Maryland where I was director of public relations for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services for 14 years. We had an enormous amount of interest and an enormous demand from citizens for this information. Citizens obviously wanted information about sex offender registries. It has a certain amount of controversy in terms of its ethicacy-does it work, does it not work? But nevertheless, citizens want this information and citizens continue to want this information today. When we put up the Sex Offender Registry on the Maryland website, it almost brought down the website itself, it was that popular. So to discuss the circumstances in Washington D.C. again we have Stephanie with the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and Bob who is the unit supervisor for the Metropolitan Police Department. Bob, the first question goes to you, now Metropolitan Police Department is the police department for Washington D.C. and you have about five people in your unit, a couple civilians, and you’re in charge of promoting or making public the registry and also to check on offenders, correct?

Robert Panizari: That’s correct. You know, there’s two main ways we try to get information out there. We do have a website that we maintain which has information on certain classes of offenders, plus we have books at all of our police precincts that the community can come view there. And also, I just want to say this, the registry is there for the community so they can look at it and they can take reasonable precautions, and it’s also there for the police officers so the officers learn who the convicted sex offenders are on their beats. And that’s the kind of way we have it set up here in the city.

Leonard Sipes: Now that’s one of the things about the relationship between the court services and the offender supervision agency which is essentially the parole and probation agency for Washington D.C. even though we’re a federal agency, and the Metropolitan Police Department, we have a good working relationship; we exchange a ton of information all the time. And the Sex Offender Registry, part of it is important for the police officers to know who is out there, who we’re supervising, who we’re not supervising. Because my understanding is half the list are under active supervision by my agency again, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and half are not. So it’s important that this information is being exchanged between the two agencies, correct?

Robert Panizari: Oh no doubt and everything starts with CSOSA or Court Services. They’re the actual ones who do the registration of the offenders and everything starts with them. They get the information, they verify the information so we make sure that the information that we’re putting out there is correct-it all starts with Court Services.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. So you do the website which is essentially the community notification, correct?

Robert Panizari: Yeah, that’s one of the main means we used to get the information out because you can get it out there quickly. We do have the books in the districts which we only update once a month. But again, the information on the website, once we get the information with Court Services, it’s a computer program that we share. Once they’ve entered it, we get it, we verify it, and then we can post it on our website.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, and what is the website address?

Robert Panizari: The website is at www.mpdc.dc.gov.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, one more time, www-

Robert Panizari: Dot M-P-D-C dot D-C dot gov.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, cool. And Stephanie, we’re going to go over to you now because the registry itself, and this is interesting, in Maryland, my old agency, we had pretty much exclusive responsibility for the registry. In this case we’re sharing responsibility. We as the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency as the good sergeant said, we populate the information, we verify who they are and we put the information into the website and then MPD promotes the website, correct?

Stephanie Gray: That is correct.

Leonard Sipes: That’s difficult in terms of identifying offenders, being sure we have the right names, being sure we have the right addresses, being sure that we have the right crimes-that’s an awesome task.

Stephanie Gray: Yes. Once the offender-we identify him by his identification, he’ll have an ID card, and then we’ll verify and get the information that he was convicted of from the U.S. courts, or the D.C. courts that has a signed judge’s name and date that he was sentenced so that we have the accurate information on what we’re registering that offender on.

Leonard Sipes: And so is there ever any question about the offender’s identity?

Stephanie Gray: Yes it is because a lot of them will go by an alias name where we’ll do a comparison of fingerprints to get it matched to that particular person.

Leonard Sipes: And that’s one of the points that I wanted to make because that’s crucial in my criminal justice career which is 38 years. Boy have I seen a lot of people with aliases. I mean, I’ve run rap sheets in the past with 20 aliases, 15 dates of birth.

Stephanie Gray: Yeah.

Leonard Sipes: And the whole idea as far as to the listening public is that they were able in the past to fool the system because you could be arrested and come in and be booked and give a false name, give a false date a birth, and we within in the law enforcement community would release that person thinking that we had John Doe when the guy’s real name is Tim Smith and he’s wanted for a homicide from Nebraska. I mean, that’s an extreme example, so we now match them via fingerprints, and that’s a positive identification so we know who that person is, we know their aliases, we know who they are, we know their backgrounds and their criminal histories.

Stephanie Gray: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: And we have what, three categories in the District of Columbia of offenders that we use?

Stephanie Gray: Yes, we have three classifications levels. Class A is registered for every 90 days and that’s a lifetime registration, they are on the public website.

Leonard Sipes: All right, now let me stop you there. Every 90 days they have to come in to the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and do what?

Stephanie Gray: They’re updating their registration requirement, they’re updating their address, their work information, if they have a car, their driver’s license, all the information has to be updated with us every 90 days.

Leonard Sipes: And so they have to bring in an array of original documents to prove this?

Stephanie Gray: Yes. We ask for a copy of a lease. If they’re working we’ll make a copy of the pay stub, and we also make copies of their driver’s license.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, so we have a fairly complete process in terms of who they are and they’re positively identified through their fingerprints. Now every 90 days, do they really do that-do they really come in every 90 days and register?

Stephanie Gray: The most part, yes. The problem we have on some are our homeless offenders.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Stephanie Gray: Or offenders who are in shelters.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Stephanie Gray: And a lot of times either they don’t get the mail or they’ll just overlook it because they see that it’s a certified letter from somewhere and they’re like, ‘oh my gosh, who is sending me a certified letter?’

Leonard Sipes: So what do we do when we can’t track that person down?

Stephanie Gray: At that time, if they’re not in the office by a due date-we give them a due date.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Stephanie Gray: A notice goes up to Sergeant Panizari and his staff to go out and do the search for them.

Leonard Sipes: All right. And I’ll suggest to most of the listeners that that level of scrutiny is probably the exception. That’s good because my experience with the National Sex Offender Registry and the folks over at the Department of Justice, most jurisdictions in the country are not doing that. That’s just my observation, you guys don’t have to comment on it, I’ll take responsibility for that observation. All right, so we have the level one offender, that’s what we’re calling him?

Stephanie Gray: We’re calling him a class A offender.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, class A offender. Now he is probably a fairly serious person–committed a fairly serious crime for that person to have to come in every 90 days.

Stephanie Gray: Yes, that’s our high-risk.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. And ordinarily, what are they convicted of?

Stephanie Gray: They can be convicted of as far as a rape. It can be child abuse against a person under 12.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, so these are the fairly serious offenders.

Stephanie Gray: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: And how many offenders do we have on the registry? About six or seven hundred?

Stephanie Gray: We have 600 plus.

Leonard Sipes: Okay about 600 offenders. So how many-just give percentage off the top of your head, would be the class As?

Robert Panizari: I think currently we have around 671 offenders that are out in the community.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Robert Panizari: And out of that number, I believe it’s about 330 that are class As.

Leonard Sipes: That’s a lot.

Robert Panizari: That’s a lot.

Leonard Sipes: I’m surprised that it’s that many. So 330 out of, let’s just say 700 to round it off.

Robert Panizari: Okay.

Leonard Sipes: 330 out of 700. That’ surprises me in terms of that class of an offender.

Robert Panizari: Well you know, it is a lot and-

Leonard Sipes: But it’s a big responsibility in terms of-I was expecting you to tell me that it’s 30, 40, 50. Keeping up with all these guys is tough. Now that I’m heartened as a citizen regardingt this level of cooperation that the two agencies have. All right, so then second-category Stephanie, we’ll get back to you, the second category is what, class Bs?

Stephanie Gray: It’s the class B.

Leonard Sipes: And who are the class Bs?

Stephanie Gray: Class Bs are required to register once a year for ten years or the life of their probation or parole.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, they got ten years regardless of the amount of time they’re on probation with the amount of time that they’re on parole.

Stephanie Gray: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. So I’m assuming that the class Bs are less than predatory offenders. I’m assuming, and tell me if I’m wrong, that class As are the really predatory hardcore folks, and the class Bs are less than that.

Stephanie Gray: Yeah you can say that, but some of our class Bs are-I mean, they’re high-risk as well.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, I accept that. And you could be-for the listening public, you could be charged with possession of drugs and be high-risk. You could be charged with a higher crime, but not be such a high risk because you’re cooperating, you’re in treatment, and everything’s going fine.

Stephanie Gray: Exactly.

Leonard Sipes: So it’s not just the crime, it’s what’s happening in that person’s life at the same time.

Stephanie Gray: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: Right? In terms of the risk level of that person.

Stephanie Gray: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. But we establish, I would imagine, class As and Bs based upon a certain criminal criteria, correct? In terms of crimes that you’re convicted of?

Robert Panizari: Yeah, that’s correct. Let me just chime in here for one second here.

Leonard Sipes: All right, go ahead.

Robert Panizari: Again, we do have the three classes of offenders: class As, which Ms. Gray said are our lifetime registrants, and the law requires a verification of information every 90 days, and class Bs, which is a ten-year registration period, and class Cs, which is also a ten-year registration period. Now class Bs, the age of the victim-a lot of these laws, when they were convicted, the categories, that determines what their class is going to be-either A, B, or C. So a class A offender for the most part does the most serious crimes – the rapes, forcible sodomy.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Robert Panizari: Things of that nature.

Leonard Sipes: Understood.

Robert Panizari: And where the age of the victim was under 12, it could be a first or second degree child offense and the age of the victim is only 12.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Robert Panizari: For Bs, the victim is between the age of 12 and 18.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Robert Panizari: And for Cs, the victim was over 18.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Robert Panizari: Now I do want to stress here that the Court Services or MPD, we have doe no type of risk assessment whatsoever on any of these offenders.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Robert Panizari: We can’t tell you if the class A offender is more likely to reoffend versus the class C offender.

Leonard Sipes: Right. But I guess, and stop me if I’m wrong, 50%-approximately, I’ve been told, 50% of the approximately 700 offenders that we have on the registry are under the act of supervision with Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. And there within that, we do our own classifications in terms of risks levels. Sometimes I’m mixing Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and what we do with the Sex Offender Registry, but half of them are under act of supervision so I think that’s what I was referring to.

Robert Panizari: Okay.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. All right, so we have class A, class B, class Cs. The class As and Bs are on the registry, correct-on the Sex Offender Registry?

Robert Panizari: All three classes are on the Sex Offender Registry now, the only difference is the class C offender we don’t post on our website.

Leonard Sipes: We don’t post them on the website, but these are in books available at any Metropolitan Police Department district station.

Robert Panizari: Yeah, for class C offenders you’d have to visit one of the book locations.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Robert Panizari: And there’s about 17 copies of the books in various police facilities throughout the city.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, so anybody who wants access to that information can go to the books, okay.

Robert Panizari: Right.

Leonard Sipes: By the way, in terms of a piece of backup, I think it was the Wetterling Act-there is national legislation that really does suggest that the states and the district and the territories to have a Sex Offender Registry. I think there is sort of 10% reduction in funds if they don’t. So this is a national movement –this is something that’s happening throughout the country, but the states will do it differently. In Maryland we put everybody on the Sex Offender Registry. In the district the class As and the class Bs, what I’m going to refer to is really serious offenders or on the Sex Offender Registry, right? Somewhere in that ballpark?

Robert Panizari: Somewhere in ballpark, yeah.

Leonard Sipes: [Laughs]

Robert Panizari: I do want to stress that no risk assessment is don’t whatsoever-

Leonard Sipes: Right, I hear you and I appreciate you correcting me. Okay, so people come to the Sex Offender Registry, and one of the things that we were really concerned about in Maryland, and I think the same concern happens-and Bob, this question goes to you, is that we mandate that nobody, absolutely nobody take any illegal action whatsoever towards that offender. And the Maryland registry and in the district, I think there’s a page that basically says that, correct?

Robert Panizari: That’s correct. I mean, anytime you’re putting information out to the public and you’re posting it on the website, there is a potential there for abuse. And we try to stress (inaudible 15:15) that this information that we put out there that we presume is going to be used lawfully to promote public safety. Now we don’t force it onto anybody, some people might not even want to know if the person that lives next door is a convicted sex offender. But we put the information out there and we haven’t had many issues or many problems with the offenders being threatened or intimidated just based solely on the fact that they’re on the registry.

Leonard Sipes: But this is information that individuals can use. My wife was vice president of a county PTA and they discussed this endlessly-that, ‘the Sex Offender Registry is up, it’s running, everybody look at it.’ Any time you are thinking about employing somebody as a baby sitter or somebody that’s going to coach your little league team, the registry is there for you to take a look at it, and to them it was a very big deal. I mean, this is information that they truly wanted.

Robert Panizari: Yeah. And it is, it’s there-I mean, we encourage all of our citizens to use the registry. I would hope they would want to know the people in the community who are on the registry and if they live in the same block of any of the people. Again, it helps in a couple ways. It can be another set of eyes and ears out there in the community-

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Robert Panizari: -to let us know if something doesn’t look right. And we do get calls from time to time about people who know that this offender is not currently living at the address. I know Ms. Gray said earlier that the class A offenders come in every 90 days, and the class Bs and Cs once a year. I don’t want to say it’s an honor system, because it’s a little bit more than an honor system. But what’s to prevent the guy coming in-say he’s a class A, he comes in today-it’s time to report, and then tomorrow he moves.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Robert Panizari: But we’re not necessarily going to be looking for that guy unless something draws our attention to him.

Leonard Sipes: And that’s one of the things that everybody has got to deal with every registry in the country, not just the District of Columbia. There is no way of guaranteeing 100% accuracy 100% of the time. I’ll take the emphasis off of the Sex Offender Registry and put it on my own agency and that is that offenders move for many reasons-all the time. And an offender can have a legally established residence with his mother, mother gets really ticked off at him and throws him out.

Robert Panizari: Right.

Leonard Sipes: So suddenly he’s in the air. Now where he goes, I mean, he’s legally obligated to report back in to us and tell us that he is now living with his cousin or what his set of circumstances are. That’s one of the reasons why we and the Metropolitan Police Department do something called accountability where we go to that house of that offender, knock on his door-unannounced in many cases, and to verify his residency. And that’s one of-again, the beauties of this partnership between the Metropolitan Police Department and the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. So even in my own agency there is difficulty following-up on-and every parole and probation agency in the country has this, and every Sex Offender Registry in the country has this, a certain percentage of the addresses and a certain percentage of the information is going to be inaccurate. And we need citizens to come back to us and to say, ‘this guy is no longer there, you need to know this,’ so we can launch it into investigation.

Robert Panizari: That’s right. I mean, there’s no way that-you know, we’re almost up to 700 offenders now in the community, there’s no way we can watch 700 people 24 hours a day.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Robert Panizari: But by putting the information out there, hopefully the community can help be our eyes and ears.

Leonard Sipes: Right. Stephanie, we’re going to close the program pretty much with you. Now again, you have these offenders, they come in all-oh by the way, the class C offenders, they have to report once again every year?

Stephanie Gray: Yeah, they come in once and a year and theirs is also for ten years or the life of their supervision.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. And that’s amazing. You have to be Grand Central Station for sex offenders in the District of Columbia.

Stephanie Gray: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: You know, a lot of these people I would imagine all on a fairly regular basis-you know who they are, you know their backgrounds, you know their circumstances.

Stephanie Gray: Yes we do.

Leonard Sipes: And that’s the important thing is if you find anything that’s out of line, any suspicions, you give that information over to Bob.

Stephanie Gray: Yes we do.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, and that’s an important part of the partnership. Now is there anything else that you guys do? You basically verify the information that they provide you and register them, and if there are inaccuracies on the list, it goes over to the Metropolitan Police Department. Is there anything else that Court Services-I know that for our offenders on supervision, you get information from our community supervision officers known elsewhere as parole and probation agents, you get that information that, ‘this person’s not where he’s supposed to be,’ or, ‘we believe this person is engaged in this sort of behavior,’ but principally where the person is to update the registry information, correct?

Stephanie Gray: Right, that is correct.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. So it’s a partnership. If the guys under supervision by the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, if he’s on parole and probation then we have a pretty decent amount of contact. The information flows through you as the registry specialist-

Stephanie Gray: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: -to record all this information, and then the Metropolitan Police Department has the responsibility of putting this information on the website and to disseminate the information from time to time in ways that is suitable and protects public safety and tracks down discrepancies and goes after people who are not doing what they should be doing, correct?

Robert Panizari: That’s correct.

Leonard Sipes: Go ahead, please.

Robert Panizari: And another thing before we finish up here, I wanted make sure we talk about is that National Sex Offender Registry.

Leonard Sipes: Go ahead, please.

Robert Panizari: Because that’s a great tool for the community, especially here in the District of Columbia where we have Maryland and Virginia borders are so close. The District of Columbia is part of that national registry. People can go there-one thing about a national registry is you can go in and you can run a zip code.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Robert Panizari: If you want to check a zip code-or you can check by name.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Robert Panizari: So by all the states feeding into that national registry that is a big help because again, here in the city where we border other states so closely.

Leonard Sipes: And that’s a wonderful point because that’s what I did in the Maryland registry, I added Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia-and the District’s registry links to the Maryland registry just for that reason.

Robert Panizari: Yeah. On our website you’ll see not only a link to the national registry, but links to the surrounding state registries.

Leonard Sipes: That is great. That is a great idea. All right, Stephanie Gray, Sex Offender Registry Specialist and Sergeant Robert Panizari, the Unit Supervisor the for Sex Offender Registry Unit-thank you. Bob, one more time, the web address of the Sex Offender Registry is?

Robert Panizari: It’s www.mpdc.dc.gov. And can I finish by saying one little thing here?

Leonard Sipes: Oh sure.

Robert Panizari: We want to be careful here that we don’t give a false sense of security in the community either. Now the ones on our website are the ones that are registered with Court Services. These are the offenders we know about. The ones we gotta be particularly careful about are the ones who haven’t been caught yet or we don’t know about. And we do offer information on our website on tips that you can (inaudible 22:39) yourself.

Leonard Sipes: And thank God you brought that up because when we were deciding what was the primary message with the Maryland registry, we decided that the primary message was going to be exactly that. That most sex offenders who are in our community are not on that registry because most sex offenders, the crimes have not been reported because as you know, there’s an outrageous amount of these sort of crimes that are not reported to law enforcement. So there’s a good number of people, probably the majority of what we call sex offenders, who are not-I’m so happy you brought at that up, who are not registered. What I said when we produced the Maryland registry it that, ‘this is an opportunity for parents to have age appropriate conversations with their children about what is right and what is not right-what other people have, what other people can do and can not do, and if that information-if in any way, shape, or form that child feels uncomfortable with that contact, it could be verbal, could be physical, could be just the slightest of touches, to come to the parents and talk to the parents about that-to establish that type of relationship.’ And that’s what’s going to prevent a lot of child abuse. And the second thing is that the good-let’s just say the majority of sexual child abuse, or child abuse in general-I’m sorry, I’m going to back up. Sexual child abuse is by somebody who the child knows.

Robert Panizari: That’s correct, and the statistics are pretty high. I want to say it’s almost 90% or it might even be a little higher where on the child abuse-child sexual abuse cases where the perpetrator and the victim know one another.

Leonard Sipes: Yep.

Robert Panizari: These aren’t stranger crimes. There’s not somebody jumping out behind the bushes in the vast majority of them.

Leonard Sipes: Right, and that’s what parents need to know. Parents need-and I really am very appreciative that you brought that up-are so focused on the mechanics of the registry that I completely forgot the larger issue of what we’re trying to accomplish here. But it really is extraordinarily important that parents understand and that children understand age-appropriate conversation. I can’t stress that enough, age-appropriate conversations that the majority of people who victimize their children, they may know that person-the child certainly knows that person, and that becomes a key issue. So the registry is there as a public information tool, but as Bob-as you said, it is extraordinarily important that people not get a false sense of security.

Robert Panizari: That’s right.

Leonard Sipes: Thank you very much for bringing it up. All right, we’re going to close, again with Stephanie Gray, Sex Offender Registry Specialist and Sergeant Robert Panizari, he’s the Unit Supervisor for the Sex Offender Registry Unit. And we gave out the website address for the Sex Offender Registry. Ladies and gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Len Sipes. Watch for us next time as we explore another important issue within the criminal justice system. Our website is www.csosa.gov. www.csosa.gov. Thanks and have a great day.

[Audio Ends]

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