Hidden Sex Offenders: Oregon falling far behind on registry overhaul

KATU file image

Oregon has the most sex offenders per capita in the country, but only lists about 2 percent of them on the state's public website.

The state is working to overhaul the system, but critics say that plan falls short and KATU has learned it's in danger of missing another crucial deadline.

"Lots of holes, lots of problems"

Edward Ritter, a registered sex offender with two past sex abuse convictions, doesn't show up on Oregon's public sex offender registry. Neighbors in Salem suspect Ritter, who they say threw wild parties, took advantage of having his status hidden.

"It just got to the point where the parties did stop and then the taxi cabs just started rolling in day and night bringing girls in ... I'm guessing real young girls, maybe late teens, early 20s," neighborhood watch leader Bill Cherry said in May.

Ritter is behind bars again, facing charges of rape, sex abuse and luring and corrupting children with sexual images.

"Our sex offender laws in Oregon are like Swiss cheese... lots of holes, lots of problems," Portland Police Bureau Officer Bridget Sickon told KATU in July.

Sickon has worked in PPB's sex offender unit for nearly a dozen years.

"There's been no move toward [fixing this]. A legislative fix needs to happen," she explained.

Due to complex legal requirements, Oregon now lists only about 2 percent of its nearly 29,000 sex offenders on its public sex offender registry.

By comparison, Idaho puts 100 percent of its registered sex offenders on its public website. California puts 75 percent, Nevada puts nearly 45 percent and Washington puts about 30 percent.

If you dive further into those details, it gets worse. About 2,000 of Oregon's sex offenders are labeled "predatory," but only about 25 percent of them are listed publicly.

Jeff Clabaugh, who manages the Oregon State Police sex offender registration unit, admits the state is failing to meet multiple federal requirements, but he says his hands are tied.

"We simply follow the statutes that we're provided with that we have to operate by our guidelines," he said.

State Rep. Jeff Barker, D-Aloha, who heads up the House Judiciary Committee, promises some action though he admits the issue is nothing new.

When asked why we have so few sex offenders listed publicly, Barker said, "because of the complicated system that's been set up. I didn't set that system up. We'll take a look at it. If it needs to be changed we'll change it."

When asked if it's right that only about 25 percent of predatory sex offenders are listed publicly, Barker said, "I think we need to have the people take a look at that and be sure who is, fits that category and if they should be listed. If they should be listed we should list them."

Barker, a former Portland police detective, promised to talk with Officer Sickon before the next legislative session. Sickon said she'd like to see the public list expanded.

"Probably 80... 80 percent would be a good number ... I think. Maybe 75. That should probably be there for citizens to know about," Sickon said.

An overhaul to the registry is already in the works. The deadline for it was pushed back from the end of 2016 to the end of 2018. The state is reclassifying offenders into a three-tiered system and promising to list all of the most serious "third tier" offenders publicly.

The state predicts that will likely only result in 5 to 10 percent of all offenders being listed publicly -- still far below neighboring states.

"Maybe we better take a closer look at that. We're not in session until next year until 2017 and we'll be looking back on this again," Rep. Barker said, adding they'll consider whether too many sex offenders are slipping through the cracks.

The head of Oregon's Parole and Post-Prison Supervision Board says they're on track to blow the already pushed back deadline for overhauling the classification system. He told lawmakers unless his agency gets more resources, only about 2,200 re-classifications will be done by the end of 2018.

Oregon currently has about 29,000 sex offenders.

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