Halloween Sex Offender Supervision-DC Public Safety-196,000 Requests a Month

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Leonard Sipes: From our microphones in downtown Washington, D.C., this is D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Every year at Halloween what we do is to take special efforts or make special efforts regarding sex offenders who have histories of offending children and we either call them in in terms of a mass orientation, call them in to one particular place, or we do joint patrols with the Metropolitan Police Department here in Washington, D.C. and we send out our teams on the sex offender teams along with people from the Metropolitan Police Department and we go and make unannounced and, in some cases, announced visits to the homes of these sex offenders with child abuse or child related crimes in their background. Before we get into the program, I do want to thank everybody. We’re up to 196,000 requests on a monthly basis for D.C. Public Safety radio, television blog and transcripts. If you want to get back in touch with us, you can follow us at Twitter, www.twitter.com/len L-E-N sipes S-I-P-E-S, or reach me via email, Leonard L-E-O-N-A-R-D.sipes S-I-P not T, P-E-S @csosa.gov. To talk about what we’re going to be doing on Halloween, we have two individuals with us; Paul Brennan and April Cole and they’re both supervisory community supervision officers from our Agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. And to Paul Brennan and April Cole, welcome to D.C. Public

Paul Brennan: Thank you.

April Cole: Thank you.

Leonard Sipes: All right. What are we going to be doing tonight? April, what we’re going to be doing is going out and we have 500 active sex offenders on our sex offender unit supervised by our sex offender unit. We’re going to be out and we’re sending out, what, nine teams of community supervision officers and MPD folks.

April Cole: Yes. Tonight we’re going to be conducting home visits through our SAFE initiative; that is a sex offender accountability and felony enforcement initiative.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. That sounds very official.

April Cole: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: [Laughs] We’re going to be going into the homes of sex offenders.

April Cole: We’re going to be going to the homes of sex offenders who reside in the District of Columbia, who have charges against minor children, or who have a condition which states that they can’t have contact with the minor children.

Leonard Sipes: Uh-huh. Paul Brennan, one of the interesting things that we have in our agency is that it’s just not the act of charge the person’s on probation for or if they come out of the prison. It’s not just a sex offense that is their current charge. Anywhere in that person’s history, if they’ve been convicted of a sex offense, we supervise them as a sex offender. Correct?

Paul Brennan: Yes, that’s correct. Many of our offenders are not currently on supervision for a sex offense. They may be on for a drug offense, a burglary offense, but in their background, they may have a prior sex offense and those are cases we also supervise.

Leonard Sipes: That’s really interesting because I came from the state of Maryland. I spent 14 years with the Maryland Department of Public Safety and I don’t think we did that. I think it was just the current charge and I think most states, I really don’t know, but most states, I’ve been told, that they only supervise for the current charge. That guy, that individual, that woman could be charged with a sex offense, convicted of a sex offense 10 years ago and they’re supervised.

Paul Brennan: Well, rationale for doing that is that if an individual had issues pertaining to sex offending, deviant sex interest, it’s unlikely that that deviant interest is going to change in 10 years and that if they reenter the system on some new criminal conduct that that sex offense issue surrounding that prior sex offense will be an issue that we need to address now.

Leonard Sipes: I think that’s clearly a public safety move on our part because a sexual predisposition, April, doesn’t go away. If you’re sexually predisposed, if your sexual predisposition is towards children, that doesn’t go away. Correct?

April Cole: No, it doesn’t go away. And you really have to think of it in terms of what that person, and I would say it in general terms, really likes. It’s what they are attracted to. So, if you are attracted to 7 to 10-year-old boys, that’s your primary attraction.

Leonard Sipes: Right. And that’s not going to change overnight.

April Cole: No, it’s not going to change.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. What we’re going to be doing on Halloween. We have basically the size of some small police departments. We have18 individuals and 9 teams from our agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. They’re all from the sex offender unit. They’re sex offender specialists. They’re going to be going out with 18 people, individuals, from the Metropolitan Police Department and we’re going to be going to the homes of these sex offenders, 150 out of the 500 active, the 150 who have children, a history of preying on children and we’re going to be doing what, April? We’re going to be going to their homes and what happens when we get there?

April Cole: Well, we’re going to go into their homes. We have instructed them that they cannot allow trick-or-treaters into their home, cannot pass out candy. We’re looking to ensure that they don’t have their porch lights on, that they’re not having any types of Halloween parties or participating in any kind of activities that would allow minor children into their homes.

Leonard Sipes: Right. And one of the things that we’ve done in past years, Paul, is we’ve even gone back to that same house several times.

Paul Brennan: Yes, that’s true. So, we may visit the house and then decide that we need to go back and check to make sure they were still in compliance.

Leonard Sipes: When our folks, whether we’re with the Metropolitan Police Department or whether we’re by ourselves, because you have fairly small caseloads on the sex offender unit. You have, I think, these individual go through how many on average face-to-face contacts a week? It’s at least two a week. Correct?

Paul Brennan: It can be a minimum of two to once a week, depending on their risk level, but the majority of people who have molested children; we’re going to see quite often.

Leonard Sipes: We’re going to see a lot. So, when you go into the home, not necessarily on Halloween, but when you go into the home at any time, you’re looking for any evidence that that person has been involved in nefarious activities. So, needless to say, if you walk in and there’s a child there, we take immediate action. If you walk in and see pornography, if you walk in and the person’s madly working at the computer trying to erase files, obviously we’ve got something there that we’re concerned about. So, we’re looking for lots of different things when we go inside that home.

Paul Brennan: We’re looking for any violations of their conditions of release certainly. And, if we do see violations, we’re going to take immediate action to address it. So, if, for example, an offender’s prohibited from having contact with children and we find a child in the home, there are some major consequences that are going to occur immediately.

Leonard Sipes: Right. But, I mean, one of the things I do want to emphasize and either one of you can answer this question is that it’s not just Halloween where we team up with the Metropolitan Police Department. I think we do 8,000 accountability tours throughout the course of the year, where our folks plus MPD go out and visit the homes of offenders. In some cases, they are announced visits because we do want the family there because there’s a concern we want the entire family to be involved in or the sponsor or the person volunteering helping that offender. And, in some cases, it’s a totally unannounced visit. So, the Metropolitan Police Department is working with us every day of the year, day in, day out. Our community supervision officers, and in most places they call them parole and probation officers, they’re working with the folks at the Metropolitan Police Department and so I don’t want to give the impression that MPD, the Metropolitan Police Department, that this is a once a year activity. This is an every day activity. Every day we’re exchanging information with them, every day they’re looking at the global positioning system tracking; we have over 800 offenders on GPS at any given day. We have a lot of sex offenders on GPS. April, so the partnership with MPD is a given; it is a day in, day out affair and this is just a continuation of that partnership.

April Cole: That’s correct. We have a great relationship with the MPD. Chief Lanier is committed to working with our agency to ensure that we are out in the community, that they’re aware of who our offenders are. They’re conducting accountability tours with us seven days a week. We were out last month on a Sunday morning and we conducted approximately 80 tours in a three day period; Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Leonard Sipes: Wow! So, our people are out there on the weekends working with MPD out there on the weekends and we’re making these special checks. So, this is constant all throughout the course of the year.

April Cole: Yes, it is.

Leonard Sipes: And I just wanted to say that, ladies and gentlemen, because I think we have an extraordinarily good working relationship with MPD. In my experience with parole and probation, we had a working relationship with law enforcement but nothing, nothing like what we do here in the District of Columbia. I mean, MPD and the folks from Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency are out there every single day of the week. Okay. So, 32 people, 9 teams going out, approximately 150 child sex offenders out of 500 active sex offenders. Paul, there are all different types of people that we call sex offenders. Correct?

Paul Brennan: There are. I mean, you can put them in different types of categories but there are those who rape adults and there are those who expose themselves in public, there are those who molest children. So, we’re cognizant of identifying the type of sex offenders we’re dealing with.

Leonard Sipes: And that becomes the key issue. I mean, either one of you can get into this, but the key issue is that we do a lot of assessment. We try to find out as much about that person as humanly possible because if this person raped a girlfriend and doesn’t have a history of abusing kids, that doesn’t mean he didn’t abuse kids in the past. Just because he had a sex crime against an adult doesn’t mean he’s not a child sex offender. Because they’re a child sex offender does not mean that he didn’t commit predatory crimes against adults or am I wrong? Do they come to us with an MO and ordinarily stick to it?

Paul Brennan: The assumption is that there are other crimes that we need to uncover. We start there and then our process is to identify the total scope of deviant activity that they engaged in over their lifetime and then make an assessment of where their risk may lie. So, it’s common that a sex offender who comes into the criminal justice system has committed a certain type of crime. Those who assume that that is the only type of crime they are likely to commit in the future may be missing a larger component of what their deviancy issues are.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. So, they can move from modality to modality, April?

April Cole: Yes, they can. And that’s one reason why it’s so important to get an accurate sexual history of an offender and our assessment really delved deeply into their sexual histories.

Leonard Sipes: Right. And people need to know that we polygraph them. We put GPS tracking devices on them. We put them in treatment and that’s fairly controversial with a lot of people out there as to whether or not the treatment really does anything, but we maintain that it does. We maintain that it teaches, the sexual predisposition doesn’t go away, but what we teach people to do is how to deal with that sexual predisposition in such a way that does not put them in prison for the rest of their lives in such a way to protect innocent victims. Correct?

April Cole: Correct. I’d like to say that we have one of the most proactive, progressive sex offender units in the country.

Leonard Sipes: I agree with that.

April Cole: And our agency has really invested into making sure that we have everything that we need in place to supervise our offenders in the community.

Leonard Sipes: Well, I agree with you that we’re one of the most, and we may be the best, sex offender unit in the country as far as I’m concerned. But one of the things we’ve been talking about recently is the expansion of getting into additional social media sites, the expansion of looking at hand-held computers, what most people call a cell phone or SmartPhone; I call them hand-held computers. My BlackBerry is just as powerful as my desktop was five years ago. So, we’re moving in other directions and so we’re trying to be as comprehensive as we can. We have a fairly small unit, fairly small caseload, but I do believe that your original assertion is correct. I think we’re one of the best, if not the best, sex offender units in the country, but what does that mean? So, we have one of the better sex offender units in the country. Paul, does that mean there are fewer victims?

Paul Brennan: It should mean that we’re able to prevent further victimization that otherwise might have occurred had we not put in place some of the counter-measures that we do. So, it’s our belief that supervision has a powerful component in protecting community safety.

Leonard Sipes: We’re halfway through the program. I want to reintroduce our guests. Paul Brennan is a supervisory community supervision officer and April Cole is another supervisory community supervision officer. These two individuals head up two of the three teams that we have here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency regarding sex offenders. There are three teams, 500 active offenders. There are more offenders than that, but they are in mental institutions or they’re in prison but they’re still on our caseload. And so we’re talking about on Halloween 150 of them who have had histories of child sex abuse or have given us any indication that they’ve had in the past a history of child sex abuse. Either one of you can answer this question and the people listening to this program, and we get a lot of college students who are studying criminal justice, criminology, or sociology, or psychology; we do a lot of college students, 200,000 requests on a monthly basis. They’re hearing this and they’re hearing sex offender and they’re going, oh my God. They have visions of Hannibal Lecter. Every stereotype on the face of the earth is flowing through their minds, but there’s nothing about a sex offender that sets them out to be any different from anybody else. Correct? I mean, they’re just, they look normal. There’s nothing there, I mean, certainly there are no horns, certainly there’s no blood dripping out of the teeth. You know what I mean. I’m trying to get to who these people really are. Paul?

Paul Brennan: They’re the people that you may interact with every day and not know that they have issues with sexual deviancy. These are people who have jobs in many cases. Some of these guys are the homeless people you see on the streets. So, there’s a wide array of individuals who commit sex offenses; some of whom are never caught. So, they can look like anybody. They can be somebody that you know and trust the most. So, you should always keep in the back of your mind that a sex offender has no particular profile that you can identify by walking down the street.

Leonard Sipes: And I think we’ve learned that from the members of religious orders who have been convicted or accused of child sex offenses, so they can be some awfully respectable individuals on the outside. Correct?

Paul Brennan: The vast majority of offenders that we deal have been victimized by someone that they know. So, I mean, that tells you something. It tells you that these are people that typically are trusted. So, many are within the family; boyfriends, people that coach or teach and have violated a certain trust and those are the cases that we typically are dealing with. The guys that jump out of the bushes, drag women off the jogging path; those are the exceptions. We have plenty of those, but those are not the primary group of people that we supervise.

Leonard Sipes: So, for the parents who are listening to this program, it is not necessarily stranger/danger. It is more the people who they know and who the child knows. April?

April Cole: I think we’ve seen a little bit of it all on our teams. We’ve had the pastors, the ministers, the doctors, the priest, coaches, teachers, all walks, professions, attorneys.

Leonard Sipes: It runs the gamut.

April Cole: It runs the entire gamut. But when you’re talking about child sexual abuse, a lot of the time, as Paul says, that we need to be looking at our family members. Those who have close association and ties with children are the ones that we’re finding are committing these kinds of criminal acts against children. So, the uncles, the grandfathers; sex offenders don’t look any particular kind of way. They look like me and you.

Leonard Sipes: That’s my point; that’s my point. That’s my point. And one of the things that we came up with in the state of Maryland was that the most important thing you can do, because parents are listening to this and saying, fine, this is all interesting; tell me how to protect my child. And we’re saying, child, we’re talking about basically anybody under the age of 18 and anywhere from crawling to age 18. And what we say to them is that you have to have a loving, open relationship with your children and your children should feel comfortable in terms of coming to you at any time for any reason and, if somebody makes them feel uncomfortable, that relationship should be there to the point where they come and tell you that this individual is making them uncomfortable, that that’s the best thing you can do to protect your child and let your child know that it doesn’t matter who makes you feel uncomfortable, whether it’s Uncle Fred, the guy who lives down the street and walks by with his dog; it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a family member or outside the family. You have that relationship with your child that that child can come to you and tell you that that child feels uncomfortable because it’s not that initial contact. It is a series of steps that the child sex offender takes to gain the trust of the victim and to victimize. Correct?

Paul Brennan: Here’s what I would tell parents is that your child may be the victim of sexual abuse. They may not tell you despite having the relationship you described. That what parents need to look for are what we call grooming behaviors. Those are the ways in which sex offenders gain access to children, break down their defenses that you have instilled in them and those are some of the things that parents need to pay attention to.

Leonard Sipes: Explain grooming behaviors.

Paul Brennan: Grooming behaviors: Buying kids candy, taking them on outings, teaching them how to work on the computer, things like that are efforts by a sex offender to gain trust in the child. Those are things the parents need to look for.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Paul Brennan: Also, remember that sex offenders are going to target kids that seem isolated from others, those who may be shy or have some self-esteem issues. They’re going to target the kids they think they can molest and nobody will believe or the child is less likely to confide in another adult or another person. Many of the cases that we see are not because the child disclosed to the parent. They disclosed to a teacher, another child, those types of situations. Oftentimes, the abuse isn’t uncovered until there is a rift between the sex offender and the child. So, the child gets upset at the sex offender and then decides to disclose after a period of time. So, the dynamics are perhaps more complicated than just teaching your child to tell me when you’ve been molested.

Leonard Sipes: Well, no, no, no. Tell me when you’re uncomfortable.

April Cole: Well, I think

Leonard Sipes: If somebody makes you feel uncomfortable, I mean, what you’ve described makes perfect sense, Paul, but at the same time, how does the parent, you can’t mistrust every human being that comes into contact with the child just because they’re involved in behavior that could be considered grooming.

April Cole: I think one of the important things you said here was let me know when a person doesn’t make you feel comfortable. Well, the sex offender’s whole goal and what they’re really good at is making that child feel comfortable. I don’t know of many cases when a child comes and says, Uncle Larry makes me uncomfortable. That’s their goal; that’s what they’re good at.

Leonard Sipes: Well, you two are giving me an education here and a much more precise education. Continue, April.

April Cole: And for parents, I think that this is a conversation that you have to have over a period of time with their children. This is not a one time conversation.

Leonard Sipes: Amen.

April Cole: This is a conversation that you have to be having daily and weekly with their children over a long period of time. And 13 or 14 isn’t the time when you stop having these conversations. That’s when you really

Leonard Sipes: Amen. Yep.

Paul Brennan: That’s really when they’re at most risk.

Leonard Sipes: That’s when you need to step it up.

Paul Brennan: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: But children are, look, I had two daughters. When they were 14, boy, they’re hard to read. They’re hard to read about, hi, honey, how are you today? Fine. I mean, when they get into that sort of interaction with parents, they’re impossible to read. How do you read them?

Paul Brennan: Well, when they get older, the computer’s a good place to look at what is going on in the life of your child. So, oftentimes, nowadays in particular, if a sex offender is grooming a child, there’s probably going to be some social networking activity that will give you an idea that they’re chatting with somebody who perhaps they shouldn’t.

Leonard Sipes: Uh-huh.

Paul Brennan: Texting: They may be getting text messages from the sex offender, so you may need to pay attention to some of the means by which the sex offender is gaining access to the child in today’s world.

Leonard Sipes: We’re into the final minutes of the program with Paul Brennan and April Cole, both supervisory community supervision officers with the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. What we’re going to be doing is going out on Halloween and there’s 150 sex offenders out of the 500 active. There are more sex offenders than that, but 500 active cases, 150 of those, in terms of 9 teams with the Metropolitan Police Department. We’re going to be going in and we’re going to be looking for any signs; I’m sorry, I never mentioned this. April, we gave them all letters individually and we’ve mailed them to the house as a back-up plan, but we’ve talked to them all individually and we’ve said, no porch lights on. Do not hand out Halloween candy. Do not dress up in costumes. Do not do this. Do not do that. Correct?

April Cole: Correct.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. And if we go there, you’re two community supervision officers and two members of the Metropolitan Police Department, and that guy is in a clown costume. What happens?

April Cole: Well, if we go in and find candy or lights or a clown costume, we’re going to immediately put some things into place with that offender that night. He’s going to have to change clothes. We’re going to have a conversation with them. The supervisors are going to come in. Depending on that particular offender, he may be going into custody that night.

Leonard Sipes: Right. And I want to remind everybody that unless he’s doing something ostensibly illegal, the folks in the Metropolitan Police Department cannot take action. What we have to do because we have to get authorization to remove the individual, to get a warrant from the parole commission or from a judge and that doesn’t happen instantaneously. Correct? In some cases, it does.

April Cole: In some cases, we’ve been able to get warrants on the same day depending on how egregious the offense is.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

April Cole: Tonight we will probably not be able to do that in most cases. We will definitely take action if we find an offender who is violating his conditions of supervision.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. Right. And MPD, they walk in and they see a blunt object that looks like a smoked marijuana cigarette. If they see anything at all that the offender is doing illegal, then they can take action. They can immediately arrest them on the spot.

April Cole: That’s correct.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. So, that’s a powerful message and the other thing is what we do with MPD is to jointly supervise, not just sex offenders, but all offenders across the board. They get to know where they are. They understand, they pass on that information to other police officers who are patrolling that district, so all police officers are looking, making sure this individual is compliant. I mean, we see them a minimum of twice a week in many cases depending on how high profile the case is and we call them in and we drug treat them. We go out and make unannounced visits, but the Metropolitan Police Department, those officers are out there 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, so they’re also looking and making sure that he is “in compliance.”

April Cole: We get phone calls quite frequently from MPD officers. Because we’re out in the community with them, they know our offenders and, when they find our offenders out in violation or participating in questionable behaviors, they pick up the phone and they call us.

Leonard Sipes: Yep.

Paul Brennan: What’s important to note is that we have put our information into NCIC. This is database that the police would access if they stopped somebody.

Leonard Sipes: National Crime Information Center.

Paul Brennan: So, when they stop an individual for whatever reason, they will see when they run this check that they are on supervision and will actually give the officer’s phone number and name and the police will be able to contact us and notify us.

Leonard Sipes: Right. So, that individual could be in Charlottesville, Virginia and yet by going through NCIC they know that the person is under supervision and here is the name and telephone number of the community supervision officer.

Paul Brennan: Right.

Leonard Sipes: That’s pretty powerful.

Paul Brennan: Absolutely.

Leonard Sipes: Well, first of all, I want to thank all of you for doing this. I mean, it’s a really difficult job that you guys have and I think the public who’s hearing this is really grateful for what it is you do and all the three teams do in the District of Columbia and in parole and probation agencies throughout the country because we sort of feel that we have one of the better sex offender units, if not the best, but everybody out there throughout the country is doing their level best in terms of Halloween and throughout the year to supervise sex offenders. Our guests, ladies and gentlemen, are or have been Paul Brennan, a supervisory community supervision officer and April Cole, another supervisory community supervision officer. They will be going out on Halloween Day in terms of 9 teams, two community supervision officers and two MPD officers, and they will be going out, visiting about 150 homes of child sex offenders and we will report back in terms of how well they did that evening. Ladies and gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety. We are just flabbergasted with the calls and letters and emails and Twitter messages that you end up giving us. If you have suggestions for the show, compliments, criticisms, you can reach me at leonard.sipes@csosa.gov or follow me on Twitter, www.twitter.com/lensipes and please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

– Audio ends –

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