Missouri has lost track of about 1,200 sex offenders in the state, with 794, or 63 percent of them, listed in the most dangerous category.
State Auditor Nicole Galloway announced Monday that 14 Missouri counties and the city of St. Louis could not account for at least 10 percent of its offenders. Galloway attributed the missing offenders to database problems, weaknesses in the law and lack of local enforcement of registration requirements.
The highest number of missing sex offenders was in Jackson County, where 439 offenders were missing out of 2,125, or 20 percent of the county’s total registered sex offenders, according to the audit. In contrast, Boone County lost track of eight of the 325 named on the registration list in May, or 2.5 percent of its sex offenders.
Offenders are required to keep their information up to date, including where they live and when they move. Failure to meet these requirements is a felony.
Other central Missouri counties, including Howard, Cooper, Monteau, Cole, Callaway, Audrain and Randolph all had between zero and five noncompliant sex offenders.
The audit did not compare compliance rates in Missouri with other states.
Until this year, sex offenders were all classified and treated the same, despite severity of crime. The law was updated this year to classify sex offenders into three tiers based on the severity of the offense.
Tier III, which includes the most severe offenses such as rape or child molestation in the first or second degree are required to register with local law enforcement every 90 days for a lifetime. Tier II offenders must register every six months for 25 years and Tier I offenders must check in once a year. Those in the least dangerous category can have their names removed after 15 years unless they petition the court for a lesser period.
The audit found that 63 percent of noncompliant offenders in the state were classified under Tier III but less than 10 percent of noncompliant offenders had an active arrest warrant against them.
Galloway’s audit report points to a failure by law enforcement to adequately pursue noncompliant offenders. Missouri State Highway Patrols procedures for maintaining the sex offender registration databases also need improvement, Galloway reported, and their procedure for updating the compliance status of offenders is inconsistent.
The report suggests revisions to improve the auditor’s access to certain court records after information to evaluate sex offender registration was denied by the Office of State Court Administrators. In addition, the auditor’s report noted that state law does not require background checks for school volunteers.
“The law requiring sex offenders to register has been on the books for more than 20 years to help keep our communities, and especially our children, safe,” Galloway said in a press release. “But if the law isn’t enforced, it’s not effective and public safety is compromised.”
Major Tom Reddin, chief deputy of the Boone County Sheriff’s Department, credits the county’s low percentage of missing offenders to the frequent in-person check ups that law enforcement completes.
“We’re very proactive in management of our sex offender registry,” Reddin said. “Multiple times a year, our entire investigative unit will break up the list of our offenders and literally knock on doors to make sure that they are providing us accurate information.”
Reddin said during the summers, the department assigns offenders to school resource officers to assist with following up on registered offenders and make sure that they are remaining compliant.
“When we find folks that are not following the law, we arrest them, we apply for warrants, we do those kind of things.” Reddin said “We’re pretty proactive about that, and I think we have that reputation so that may be why our numbers are so good.”