Proposed Senate bill wants to add omitted offenders to sex offender database

The Arizona Sex Offender Information Registry is a valuable resource for many Arizona residents. The database, maintained by the Department of Public Safety, lists information about individuals required to register as sex offenders pursuant to state law.  The information includes basic biographical information, some information about the offender’s criminal conviction, and their most recent known whereabouts.

The database does not include information about every registered sex offender.  From the DPS website, a disclaimer reads: “WARNING – This site does not contain information on all convicted sex offenders!  Information is only provided for sex offenders with risk assessment scores of Level 2 (Intermediate) or Level 3 (High)[.]”  Sen. John Kavanagh (R –  District 8 (Fountain Hills)), wants to change that, and his proposal is gaining momentum in the Arizona Legislature.

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The DPS website describes the process through which registered sex offenders are assigned risk assessment scores, indicating that the custodial agency of the individual completes a risk assessment screening profile and assigns a score, called the “standardized Arizona Risk Assessment.”

“Level 2” and “Level 3” offenders, considered Intermediate and High Risk respectively, are featured on the database, but Level 1 (Low Risk) offenders are not.  According to Sen. Kavanagh and like-minded politicians, the problem with this system is that the standardized criteria for the Arizona Risk Assessment have not been updated in decades.

For example, according to an article published by the Arizona Republic, offenders are considered lower risk if they have a job, molested a girl instead of a boy, committed a crime against a family member instead of a stranger, are not substance abusers, or did not use a weapon in the commission of the offense.  Many of the criteria used do not align with contemporary psychological guidelines or criminology – or in some cases, common sense.

Sen. Kavanagh’s proposed solution is Senate Bill 1286. This bill would require DPS to include every registered sex offender on the database notwithstanding their Risk Assessment score.

Many lawmakers were appalled at the fact that not all offenders were on the database and consider the current law a major issue.

“Why has it taken all these years to do this? This is appalling,” said Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa said in a committee hearing in February. “I have five daughters and 25 grandchildren and I didn’t know this.”

Of course, the information DPS provides on the database is “intended for community safety purposes only,” and not to “threaten, intimidate, or harass.”  The intent of the Risk Assessment system is to give Arizonans information they need to feel safe.  Per the DPS website, Arizona registers approximately 15,500 sex offenders who “come from all walks of life.”  The myriad and sometimes peculiar ways an individual may be required to register is the subject of another article; however, the assertion that there is no foolproof “profile” of a potential sex offender is true.

Unfortunately, although the registry may help Arizonans avoid contact with registered offenders in some settings, the database may provide a false sense of security for individuals who are pleased to learn that they do not live near any known sex offenders.

Because the overwhelming majority of sex offenses are perpetrated against family members or people who the offender knows, focusing too much on the registry entries and not enough on maintaining healthy boundaries and fostering an open intrafamily dialogue, especially with children, could lull Arizonans into a false sense of security even if SB1286 passes.  There are no substitutes for vigilance and common sense.

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