KATU reporter inspires state lawmaker to launch sex offender registration reform effort
Bills meant to help better protect you and your family from sex offenders are now in the works in Salem. And a state lawmaker credits KATU with tipping him off to problems with the system that he was not aware of.
The lawmaker, state Rep. Jeff Barker, D-Aloha, says KATU's Joe Douglass opened his eyes to a startling fact about Oregon's public sex offender registry last fall.
Barker, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, told Douglass he was unaware the state only publicly lists around 2 percent of Oregon's sex offenders.
Oregon currently has the most sex offenders per capita in the country.
"You indicated the problem that I wasn't aware of," Barker, a retired Portland Police Bureau detective, said Tuesday. "I've seen the young girls. Their lives are ruined over being molested when they're kids. It rips their soul out and I do everything I can to stop that."
After Douglass spoke with Barker in September, he made good on a promise to talk with the Portland Police Bureau's sex offender registration unit, including Officer Bridget Sickon, who's spoken with KATU repeatedly.
"Our sex offender laws in Oregon are like Swiss cheese," Sickon said in July, "lots of holes, lots of problems."
Sickon and other members of her unit wrote up proposed legislation that addresses what they feel are some big problems with the system.
In Oregon right now, generally sex offenders must check in just once a year around their birthday or if they move.
But in Washington, for example, the rules are tougher. Less risky "level one" offenders are checked at home once a year. Level two offenders are checked at home twice a year. And the most serious level three offenders are checked at home four times annually.
When it comes to homeless offenders, a big concern for Barker and Portland police, Washington requires them to check in once a week and lists them on a public website.
But in Oregon, homeless offenders, like all others generally, just have to check in once a year at a law enforcement facility.
"I had a bill last year, last session, that would've required the homeless offenders to check in monthly," Barker said. "The parole information people came in and said, 'Please don't do that because we won't be able to keep up and we'll just be violating people and it would be a waste of everybody's time.'"
But this year Barker, using the Portland police unit's suggestions as a guide, plans to propose that homeless offenders check in more often - though he's still working out details.
He also wants Oregon's level three offenders to have to check in three times a year.
"Mainly what we want to do is make sure the people who are dangerous are monitored," Barker said, "(That) we spend more resources monitoring the dangerous, predatory sex offenders and not waste time on somebody that did something stupid when they were a kid who is no danger whatsoever."
As far as adding more offenders to the public registry, Barker said he's looking at how that works out and may propose legislation on it next year.
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.
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.