Since May, Colorado law enforcement agencies have had the option to put their sexual-offender registries online, making the information more accessible and available to the public.
Locally, the Steamboat Springs Police Department already has put a partial sex-offender list online, and the Routt County Sheriff's Office hopes to have its list online in the next few months.
The recent cases involving Hayden resident John Rollins Tuggle, who is susupected of raping, stabbing and leaving his 12-year-old daughter in the Idaho wilderness last month, and a Steamboat Springs man who is suspected of sexually assaulting a child at his place of employment two weeks ago, have brought intense local attention to the sex-offender lists.
Both men are in custody and facing charges for their alleged crimes.
House Bill 1035, signed in May by Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, removed the "need to know" condition people previously had to meet to see the local sex registries. Now, anyone can access the registries online.
However, the new law does not require law enforcement agencies to put their registries online; it merely gives them the option to do so. Also, the online lists do not always include every sex offender registered in a city or county.
Colorado Bureau of Investigation agent Patrick Maroney said law enforcement agencies can't post every person on their lists; sex offenders have to meet certain criteria before their names are posted on a Web site. For example, agencies cannot post information about juvenile offenders, and most agencies only post offenders convicted of felonies or multiple misdemeanor offenses.
The CBI Web site lists four categories of sex offenders that people can access: sexually violent predators, repeat offenders, offenders who have failed to register and felony sex offenders.
Colorado does not categorize offenders by levels, as some states do. For example, Washington uses a three-level system to identify the severity of the crime and the risk of the sex offender to the community.
The man who is awaiting trial in Routt County had been registered in Washington as a Level 2, someone who poses a moderate risk to the community and has a higher likelihood of re-offending.
In Colorado, sexually violent predators are considered more dangerous than sexual offenders. Six sexually violent predators are registered in Colorado, none of whom live in Northwest Colorado.
Maroney said that when a sexually violent predator is released from prison, law enforcement agencies are required to notify the community into which that person is moving. Such community notification is not required when other types of sex offenders are released.
Typically, when notification is required, local law enforcement agencies will get together to determine where and how to notify residents that a sexually violent predator is living in close proximity, Maroney said. Oftentimes, officers walk the residential blocks surrounding where the sexually violent predator registered and notify residents in person.
Most sexual offenders register with the county or municipality in which they live within 24 hours of being convicted. The information provided at that time becomes public.
In Routt County, the police departments and Sheriff's Office have each offender's name, date of birth, address, physical description and nature of the crime for which he was convicted.
There are nine sex offenders registered with the county, plus two in Oak Creek, six in Steamboat Springs and three in Hayden.
In relation to schools, there is one sex offender in Steamboat who lives within a few blocks of Soda Creek Elementary School and one in Hayden who lives within a few blocks of Hayden High School.
In the county, there are three juvenile offenders and 17 adult offenders ranging in age from 23 to 57. All the registered offenders are male, and the vast majority were convicted of crimes involving children.
Thirteen were convicted of sexually assaulting a child, one was convicted of indecent exposure, one of statutory rape of a minor, one of unlawful sexual conduct, one of window peeping, one of incest, one of harassment and one of child molestation.
Sex offenders are required to update their registration quarterly or yearly depending on the offense, Routt County Sheriff's records custodian Elise Bennett said.
Four of the county's offenders register quarterly, and five register annually.
Offenders are required to update their registrations whenever any of the information becomes invalid -- when the offender moves, changes names, changes employments, or bec-omes a volunteer, for example.
Maroney said that information being online is "invaluable" for parents and community members who want to be informed about the people living in the community.
"Information is power. Know-ledge is power. Being able to access this information gives you a better tool to know your community," he said.
Maroney said that people respond differently to finding out about sex offenders but that the information is designed to serve as a starting point to decide what to do.
Bennett said the point of having the registries public is not to create a community panic but to alert people about sex offenders so they can educate their families.
"We supply the information so that people can decide what to do from there," she said.
Taylor said sheriff's deputies and police officers are constantly watching sex offenders and notice when something might be abnormal.
"We have more contact with these people than most agencies. We're always making sure they're compliant," he said.
Maroney said the problem with most registries is that people don't know they exist. Since HB 1035 passed, Maroney has noticed a huge increase in the number of visitors to the Web site accessing information about Colorado sex offenders.
Maroney also said people can download a form off the Web site requesting a complete list of sex offenders by Zip code, city, county or the entire state for $20.
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