Halloween Checks of Child Sex Offenders in Washington, D.C.

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This radio program is available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2008/10/halloween-checks-of-child-sex-offenders-in-washington-dc/

We welcome your comments or suggestions at leonard.sipes@csosa.gov or at Twitter at http://twitter.com/lensipes.

– Audio begins –

Len Sipes: Hi, and welcome to D.C. Public Safety, I’m your host, Len Sipes. I think today we have one of the better programs that we’ve ever produced, and one of the more interesting programs we’ve ever produced. This is done in conjunction with the effort on the part of the Metropolitan Police Department and the Court Services and Offender Supervision, the agency to do a public safety endeavor to check on 200 sex offenders, child sex offenders specifically, on Halloween evening. There are 13 teams of individuals from the Metropolitan Police Department and the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency Sex Offender Unit that will fan out throughout the city and do residential checks. There are approximately 600 sex offenders in the District of Columbia supervised by us, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, there are three sex offender teams, this is the 4th year of trying to do something special regarding sex offenders. Last year, what we did was to do what we call a mass orientation, we called all of them into one place, and we, MPD were there taking part in that. We have approximately 100 of our sex offenders on GPS, Global Positioning System, so we’ll be doing random checks, I’m sorry, we’re going to be doing extra special checks on GPS correlating their tracks with crimes on Halloween evening, and we’re going to be doing surprise and random checks on everyone else who’s not a child sex offender. At our program and at our microphone today, we have Diane Groomes. Diane is the assistant chief of the Metropolitan Police Department, and we have Trifari Williams. Trifari is a community supervision officer, known most of you throughout the country, as a parole and probation agent in the sex offender, and to Diane and Trifari, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Diane Groomes: Thank you, sir. We’re proud to be here.

Len Sipes: And you know, one of the things we are interested in, Diane, I’m going to call the assistant chief, and I’ve been in the criminal justice system for 40 years, I have a hard time calling the assistant chief Diane, but this is how we’re going to refer to each other throughout the program. Diane, MPD, Metropolitan Police Department is going to be teaming up with the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, but you guys are out there dealing with sex offenders, child sex offenders, all the time anyway!

Diane Groomes: Well, what makes this very important to us, sir, is as everyone knows, Halloween is a time for children. The children come out with their parents, some children come out without parents, with their friends, to go trick or treating, therefore the threat against them encountering one of our sexual offenders is very high, so I think it’s very important that we take a special time out to go to the houses and check to see where these offenders are and kind of send them the message that we’re watching them.

Len Sipes: One of the things in terms of color background, we sent a letter to all the child sex offenders, and Trifari, this question is going to go over to you, we could have a person who is currently being supervised, and we supervise people out of the prison system or placed on probation, there’s 15,000 offenders on any given day in the District of Columbia that we supervise. Now we, that person could be supervised for burglary but have a history of child sexual, a child sex related crime 15 years ago, correct?

Trifari Williams: Yes, you’re correct about that. One of the unique things about that, the sex offender unit at CSOSA is that we’re actually responsible for individuals that a) have been convicted of a traditional sex offense, which is also considered their underlying offense, their instant offense, but we also supervise individuals, like you stated, that have had a previous sex offense in the past, might be on supervision for another charge at this point in time, it could also be an individual that’s been convicted of a sex offense in another jurisdiction but is currently residing in the District of Columbia and is under supervision, so therefore, we’re supervising that case as well.

Len Sipes: Okay. Now we sent a letter out to all people who are child sex offenders, and we basically said, you can’t decorate, you can’t participate, and you have to stay home, correct?

Trifari Williams: That is correct. What we did was we actually had those individuals come into our office, review that letter with them, all the conditions on that letter, you cannot have a child in your home, you cannot decorate, you cannot participate in any type of Halloween activities, you cannot have anyone in your residence distributing candy, you cannot have your lights on, we went through a litany of things that they needed to do along with being at home –

Len Sipes: In person?

Trifari Williams: In person.

Len Sipes: One-on-one?

Trifari Williams: Yes. But also, we got them to sign off on those things after we reviewed them. The most important thing is, we told every one of those individuals that you must be at home from the hours of 6PM to 11PM. We did not indicate to them that we would be doing random checks, because if we did, it wouldn’t be random. But we did indicate to them what their responsibility was and what our expectations are of them while they’re on supervision.

Len Sipes: And I think the important thing is that we at MPD, and Diane, I’m going to throw this question over to you, one of the things that always has impressed me, Diane, is that on any given year, we have about 8,000 concurrent home visits between the Metropolitan Police Department and the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency for high risk offenders. So we go, the team, of CSOSA and MPD goes through the door of these 8,000 individuals throughout the course of the year, so it’s not like this is an unusual thing, or this is a special thing. We do this throughout the course of the year anyway!

Diane Groomes: Right, as you said, we have a wonderful relationship with CSOSA. We have worked many years with them, and we call them accountability tours, we go together, and again, CSOSA’s lead, and again, to have us there kinda sends a message to the offender that D.C. government and the government’s taking this seriously, and a lot of times, we notice great success where the offender keeps on track, then, and we find that it lowers the rate of recidivism if they know that CSOSA and MPD are working together.

Len Sipes: Now I work for the Department of Justice’s Clearinghouse a long time ago, I spent 14 years representing the state of Maryland and the department of public safety, parole and probation was part of that, I have somewhat of a sense as to how parole and probation conducts business, I’m a former cop. The thing that impresses me about the District of Columbia in the five years that I’ve been here is that there’s been a continual effort on the part of the Metropolitan Police Department and CSOSA to interact together. I’m told that every day, intelligence is shared, GPS tracks are shared, we sit down at the district level at the Commander’s level on a regular basis, information is exchanged between the individual officers and the individual community supervision officers everyday. I think that’s impressive, and I also think it’s unusual.

Diane Groomes: Well, as I said, the relationship is wonderful, and it continues to build, and it continues to grow. Our most current partnership does involve our intelligence sharing. When we have, like we did last night, we had 3 murders occur in 2 hours, and our CSOSA partners have already reached out to us to tell us, you know, the history of our victims and maybe some possible relations to kind of help us, guide us on our investigative track. It’s a win-win situation, and as you said, our commanders and our officer level are touched by CSOSA, and we have had great success of reducing crime. I can give this partnership credit that it really helps us fight crime out there.

Len Sipes: But I don’t know if you wanted to comment on that, when I say it’s unusual. I think it’s unusual. Parole and Probation and Law Enforcement traditionally haven’t talked to each other throughout the country, and I find what’s happening in the District of Columbia in the 5 years that I’ve been here, not only unusual, I find it to be intensive at times. I don’t know if you feel that it’s intense enough, or enough information is being shared back and forth, but I’m sort of knocked over by how much information is shared, not just at the command level, but the individual officer level.

Diane Groomes: I agree with you on that, as you said, the criminal justice system is made up of several parts, and usually police have a different goal from the other agencies, so we really appreciate CSOSA coming and really partnering with us, again, the information we share is to reduce crime, reduce recidivism, and also what I appreciate is the long term issues that CSOSA deals with, trying to get offenders jobs, substance treatment, because that is, are the things that lead to crime. So MPD is proud to be part of, you know, a system that is for a long-term approach vs. just a short term fix.

Len Sipes: Yeah, I find, when I came here to the district 5 years ago, I was flabbergasted by the level of interaction between Parole and Probation and Law Enforcement, and that level has increased dramatically lately in the state of Maryland, and I find it happening increasingly throughout the country, but it was just, when I came here to the District of Columbia, it was like, wow! This is really unusual all the conversation taking place. Trifari, we’re going to go over to you. You know, you’ve been 5 years at CSOSA as a community supervision officer, and you’ve spend the last year within the sex offender unit. Supervising Sex Offenders, and you and I had a radio show a long time ago talking about, you know, supervising offenders. Sex offenders are sometimes more difficult to deal with than the average offender, because they seem to comply all the time, where a lot of other offenders are basically saying, ah, I’m not going to go for drug treatment, or I’m not going to show up for drug testing, or whatever it is, sex offenders, generally speaking, dot every ‘i’, cross every ‘t’ and that’s what makes it really interesting and tough in terms of supervising them, correct?

Trifari Williams: Yes, it can be. One of the things that, in my experience, I’ve realized while working with these sex offenders, it’s very similar to what you’re saying. There’s a number of situations in which individuals are more compliant, they’re more willing to work with the community supervision officer, which is to their benefit, but one of the things that we set up, and they understand as a part of working with the sex offender unit is, is that we take what is considered a collaborative approach when supervising sex offenders. All of our sex offenders that it’s also, not only a partnership that we have with MPD, we also have a partnership with the treatment providers that provide sex offender treatment, along with the polygraphers that we use –

Len Sipes: Polygraph operators.

Trifari Williams: Yes.

Len Sipes: Lie detector tests.

Trifari Williams: Right. And it’s all used as a complete system. If I can give you a quick example,

Len Sipes: Yeah, please!

Trifari Williams: If you take the average offender, we want to look at it as a sense of a triangle, the offender is innocent, or the supervision officer is at the top of it, on one side of that is the treatment provider, on the opposite side of that is the polygrapher or the polygraph examiner. We place that person inside of that triangle because the expectation is that, when we have an individual that is a sex offender, we want the community to understand that there is close supervision that’s done. There is a partnership that has been developed with MPD, of course, in which we share information, what you were talking about earlier, but there’s a strong information sharing that we have between the sex offender treatment provider and the polygrapher. What we try, what we do, actually, with that is, at any point in time that one of these individuals does something that, what you would consider out of the ordinary, they’re missing their appointment, they’re not participating in treatment, they’re using drugs, that information is shared between those three entities immediately.

Len Sipes: Sure.

Trifari Williams: Take a classic example, I had an individual, not saying any names, of course, but he missed an appointment last week with his sex offender treatment provider. By that evening, I had already gotten a fax from the treatment provider notifying me of that individual’s missed appointment, which automatically prompts me to implement sanctions in regard to his non-compliance –

Len Sipes: And when we’re talking about sanctions, we mean we bring them to read them the riot act, he’s got to start coming in every day, he’s got to go to a litter detail, there’s some punishment which is immediate for any action that’s not appropriate.

Trifari Williams: Right, correct. And we do those things, and it helps them to understand that the level of compliance that we expect from them, they must follow through with it, and I think that’s the biggest thing is why you will see the individuals in a sex offender unit that tend to be a little bit more compliant, because they know that there’s so much information sharing going on between that treatment provider, between the supervision officer, and one of the things that Ms. Groomes was just talking about, we’re out weekly at these commanders’ meetings sharing information about the recently released sex offenders that we have in the community, any point of time that we have anybody that we feel is considered a high risk, we’re sharing that information, so they see this partnership –

Len Sipes: They see the team, they see the fact that the treatment providers, lie detector operators, the Metropolitan Police Department, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, so they understand that there’s a certain point where, if they screw up, they’re going to be caught, and they’re going to be sent back to prison.

Trifari Williams: Correct.

Len Sipes: And I think that’s the impressive thing. We will do everything we possibly can in terms of helping that person through the treatment process, but that person needs to understand that if he violates public safety in any way, shape, or form, he’s probably going to go back to prison.

Trifari Williams: Right, and totally understanding that, because that information sharing is there, and one of the unique things about this agency, as you know, is the amount of emphasis that we put on assisting these individuals. We spend countless amounts, hundreds of thousands of dollars in putting these individuals through treatment, trying to assist them in addressing their issues and making them more productive members of society. That helps to reduce recidivism inside of the District of Columbia, and it’s one of the most impressive things, and one of the things that I find is very unique is the amount of resources that we’ve actually just committed to these individuals.

Len Sipes: Tens of millions of dollars. Diane, one of the things that I did, I interviewed a variety of people from the Metropolitan Police Department for an article that I’m doing for a national publication on GPS or Global Positioning System or Satellite Tracking, and so I was interviewing an officer from Northeast D.C. who was a 7 year veteran, and he tells me that he suddenly started seeing people on the street with these cell phones strapped to their legs, and then we got together, and he took a course from CSOSA on the use of GPS, and he said something that’s extraordinarily interesting, that this is at the officer level, that he now exchanges information on a regular basis because he can look up that person and who supervises that person via the computer in his car, the vehicle. He can find the community supervision officer, talk to that individual directly, either by email or by phone, and the exchange information back and forth, so the individual officers of the Metropolitan Police Department evidently are, and GPS was one example of this, are now exchanging information with the individual officers in CSOSA, and I said to him, is this, now you’re a 7 year veteran, and you’re obviously computer savvy, and is this just you, or do you think the average officers out there recognize the partnership and see the value of the partnership and exchanging information, and he tells me that the average officer is more than ever before exchanging information with average officers at CSOSA. I find that profoundly interesting.

Diane Groomes: You’re correct on that. Everyone should realize in the police department, you know, our officers are our front line, and our officers right now, they want more information to help reduce crime, help the citizens, you know, reduce the fear of crime, and one of the things that, our biggest request right now, as you said, due to the GPS system and tracking, our officers, and as a huge percentage, and it’s growing every day, is the Veritrack[sp?] system, and our officers are going on their laptops, and when they hear, they take crimes personal, so when a robbery spree occurs, or if a shooting occurs, of course, sometimes you figure, they have an idea who could have done it, they now log into their computer and try to track, you know, those offenders that they know to see if they were in the area, then they communicate also with their CSOSA rep and tell them about, if they had an encounter with the offender, positive or negative, so again, it’s just, it’s a win-win situation where, you know, working with CSOSA, we can definitely address those offenders that are not doing so well, and then address also those offenders that are doing well, so it also saves us time where we can focus on those that need focused on the most.

Len Sipes: We’re halfway through the program, and it’s going rapid-fire. Ladies and gentlemen, this is D.C. public safety. Diane Groomes, assistant chief of police for the Metropolitan Police Department, is by our microphones, and Trifari Williams, a community supervision officer with the sex offender unit, Trifari has been with CSOSA for the last 5 years, and we’re talking about Halloween evening, and a brief commercial that we respond to every inquiry, every suggestion that you provide to us, we respond to them, we take them all into consideration, if you go to media.csosa – C-S-O-S-A – .gov, or simply search for DC Public Safety, we appreciate your comments, we appreciate everything that you’ve been doing in terms of the comments and guiding us on the program, we are now well over 100,000 requests on a monthly basis for the program, we are now way beyond 1,300,000 requests since the inception of the program in January of 2007, so please keep your comments rolling in, so again, back to our microphones, Diane, or back to our guest, Diane Groomes and Trifari Williams. You know, Trifari, when we go, when we talk about what we’re going to be doing Halloween evening, we’re going to be sending out 13 teams, Metropolitan Police Department and ourselves, there are going to be 13 teams of individuals, we’re going to go to the homes of approximately, it’s a little bit less than this, 200 child sex offenders, we sent them a letter and sat down with the and told them what they can do, what they can’t do, this is our 4th year of looking at child sex offenders, but nothing this extensive, so you’re going to go out with Metropolitan Police Department on Halloween Evening, what do you expect to find?

Trifari Williams: The expectation at this point in time is since we’ve instructed all of these individuals as to what they should be doing, what our hope is, is that they would be compliant with their release conditions. When we go into these residences, one of the first things we’re going to be looking for, of course, we’re going to be going through every room making sure that there are no minors in the home. We’re going to make sure –

Len Sipes: So you go through the entire house.

Trifari Williams: Yes we do.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Trifari Williams: That’s one of the important things, because we want to make sure that they’re compliant with these conditions, and also, make sure that there’s nobody actually being placed in any type of danger. I mean, that’s the whole point –

Len Sipes: You even have the right to go into their computer!

Trifari Williams: Yes, we do. One of the interesting things about being a part of this unit is a lot of times, several individuals, most individuals actually have conditions that basically dictate what they’re supposed to do while they’re on supervision. One of those conditions can be a computer search condition, and with that condition, we actually go out, we will install software on the individual’s computer, and one of the things I do want to emphasize, it doesn’t only mean computers, I mean, now in the days of technology, cell phones, cell phones can be computers as well, so we also look at cell phones, make sure that they don’t have any type of pornographic material on there, we’re also looking at the searches that they’re doing on the internet, looking at their IM chats, things of that nature, so we’re actually going out investigating, truly getting into figuring out, what is this person actually doing?

Len Sipes: I mean, it gets a little, all of those, for me the child sex offender concept, I don’t think it’s frightening, but I think some people out there, I mean, we’re putting them on Global Positioning System, we have the right to look into their computer, their cell phone, we can search, in fact, their computer remotely. We don’t even have to be within the home. We go into the home, we search the house for any activities, that’s quite a bit of leeway, and to me, it’s comforting in terms of the kind of offender we’re dealing with, in terms of a history of child sex offenses. So you’re going to be going into that home that night, searching the home, looking for any connection between, inappropriate connection between him and children, or any connection between him and children.

Trifari Williams: Yes, you’re going to be looking for any indications in which they may have items in the home that may indicate that a child has either previously been there, or that a child actually resides in that home. You want to make sure that you document all of that, that information, and we’re going to have, of course, MPD with us if there’s any indications that there has been a child in the home for us to further investigate it.

Len Sipes: Now one of the things that I want to touch upon. We are a law enforcement agency, but we do not have direct law enforcement powers. We enforce the orders of the parole commission, and we enforce the orders of the court. So we can tell them that they cannot decorate for Halloween. If they decorate for Halloween, then we have to go back to the courts, and we have to go back to the parole commission, and we have to say, okay, we think that this person is violating, let’s consider whether he’s on probation, putting him in prison, or if he’s on parole, putting him back in prison. If it’s a violation of the law, however, if we walk into the home of a child sex offender, and obviously he has an illegal firearm, if he has drugs, if he is in the process of doing something that is illegal, then we can arrest.

Diane Groomes: Right, and that’s the benefit of having MPD along with CSOSA. Anything in plain view, any contraband, they are subject to arrest on the spot. And one of the most successful stories about an accountability tour with CSOSA, and I think it occurred, it was about 2 years ago, they did a basic accountability tour, and when they entered, all of the sudden, they’ve seen a bunch of people run out of the apartment, and what we found was they were cooking a huge kilo of crack cocaine. MPD was able to chase down the subjects, place them under arrest, but just a basic check led to a huge seizure of crack cocaine off the streets and multiple arrests.

Len Sipes: And I think, once again, it is, and I’m probably going to be repeating myself to death, and so I’ll hopefully say it for the last time. That, to me, is the amazing power. We live in a world where, and this is Department of Justice data, where the average person on community supervision comes into contact, the average person on community supervision comes into contact with a parole and probation agency 3 times a month or less. We’re talking about 80%, 3 times a month or less. So in essence, 99% of the time, that person is unsupervised. That person, the amount of contact you have with that individual is just brief, 5-10 minutes. You know, law enforcement, ordinarily, is not involved. Here, we go to the individual’s house on a surprise basis, and some cases, it’s not a surprise, in some cases, we want to talk to the mother, or we want to talk to the wife, we want to talk to the people he lives with, because sometimes they can supply us with great information, but that’s an immense amount of contact, and that sends a message to that offender of, it’s just not CSOSA, it is MPD, and that person’s going to spread the word to his or her fellow officers in the area that here is a child sex offender, or here is a burglar, or here is a person convicted of robbery, and he’s living at this house, and here are the circumstances. I think that, to me, it’s just immensely powerful and sends an immensely powerful message.

Diane Groomes: I agree with you, and what we’ve been doing, too, especially over the summer, when we have our all hands on deck, CSOSA also joins us with that. When we actually walk the neighborhoods, not necessarily going to even the homes, CSOSA has joined us just walking certain neighborhoods where there is a large population of ex-offenders, and I think it sends a message, again, that we have a partnership in that, you know, we’re going to work together to combat any additional crime that can be committed.

Len Sipes: All right, so to follow up, we do have articles talking about the relationship between the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and the Metropolitan Police Department, again, they are on the podcasting website, or the radio/television transcript/blog at media.csosa.gov if you’re interested in additional articles about the interagency activity between CSOSA and our friends in the Metropolitan Police Department, all these articles have been printed by national publications. Anything else we want to say in terms of wrapping up for Halloween? We’re going to provide some additional information in terms of what happened that evening later on that evening, we’re going to be out between 6:00 and 9:00, but we’re not held to those times, we’ll go later if necessary. Anything additional, Diane?

Diane Groomes: Well, I believe it’s not just a message to these sexual offenders or ex-offenders, it’s a message to the community in whole. In D.C., they’re extremely happy to see that the criminal justice system, CSOSA, and MPD are taking an extra step, making them feel safer, and that, you know, we are working together, so I think it’s not only dealing with the offender, but it also addresses the community at whole that has that fear that criminals are on the loose, or if there are parents, just think how much we could be putting them at ease to know that we’re going to be watching these sex offenders.

Len Sipes: Right. And we didn’t make an announcement or pre-announcement beforehand, Trifari, because we didn’t want to interfere with the integrity of the operation.

Trifari Williams: Yes. One of the things we find is very important when we’re doing these unannounced accountability tours is we want these individuals to always be able to understand that we’re going to be out, we’re monitoring them, the partnership is there, and I’d like to piggyback a bit on what assistant chief Groomes just said, one of the things that we find as going out to the PSA meetings, the Patrol Service Area meetings, when we meet with members of the community is they greatly appreciate our presence. They greatly appreciate, they understand that all the work that MPD is doing, but they appreciate the partnership, they appreciate the fact that we’re out there, working with MPD, to help assure them that we’re doing everything we possibly can to make them feel safe, and it’s one of the things that they always comment about when, at the end of those meetings as well.

Len Sipes: Yep. I think the public expects, and I still say it’s a bit unusual for the District, but the public expects us to work hand in hand, and MPD is going to be taking the lead, needless to say, on crime control efforts in the District of Columbia, but we’re happy to be along, we’re happy to be of assistance, and we feel that we can play a tremendous role in the public safety. Just want to remind everybody listening that, yes, we’re going to be doing accountability tours for child sex offenders on Halloween evening for approximately 200 child sex offenders, but we do this 8,000 times, 8,000 individuals throughout the course of the regular year. MPD and CSOSA are out there, and I just think that’s a wonderful partnership. Diane Groomes, assistant chief of police for the Metropolitan Police Department has been at our microphones, and Trifari Williams, a community supervision officer with the sex offender unit, is also at our microphones. Ladies and gentlemen, this has been, or it still is D.C. Public Safety, I’m your host, Len Sipes, please have yourselves a very pleasant day.

– Audio ends –

Meta terms: crime, criminals, criminal justice, parole, probation, prison, drug treatment, reentry, sex offenders, domestic violence, anger management, corrections, high-risk offenders, GPS, women offenders.

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