STOP SEX OFFENDERS | NY: Sex-offender registry draws praise, criticism.
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Sex-offender registry draws praise, criticism.

October 24, 2000

ALBANY - Twenty-two men living in the Capital Region, including eight in Schenectady, are listed on an official state registry of high-risk sexual offenders that's now available free to the public on the Internet.

The Web site - which provides names, addresses, photographs, identifying characteristics and criminal histories of a very limited number of convicted sex offenders - has received about 250 hits a day since it was launched in June, according to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.

Critics of the Web site would like to see it yanked because they believe dis- semination of such information punishes offenders after their release. They also question its usefulness to the public.

"People may be lulled into a false sense of security that they can identify all possible sex offenders," said Louise Roback, director of the Capital Region chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

"It doesn't serve the interest of protecting the public. Most children are in danger from people that they know, rather than a stranger. It's family or friends, generally, who commit sex offenses against children in the home."

But child advocates insist that parents and others have a right to know when a convicted sex offender takes up residence nearby. State law does not require police to notify residents when high-risk sex offenders move into the neighborhood - it is left to their discretion.

Until recently, concerned citizens had to visit local police stations or call a 900-number to get information about convicted sex offenders.

Callers to the hot line must know the name of the person they are inquiring about and know one of the following about the person: address, driver's license number, Social Security number or birthday.

Now, anyone 18 years of age and older can access information about high-risk offenders by logging onto a state Web site ( With just a few key strokes, users can call up detailed information on listed sex offenders in any county or zip code in the state.

"Parents are happy to be able to access this information," said Caroline Quartararo, a spokeswoman for the Division of Criminal Justice Services.

"The rights of parents to keep their children safe overrides any concerns about the privacy of a convicted sexual predator. About 99 percent of the feedback we get is positive."

The Web site does not offer a comprehensive listing of all convicted sex offenders in the state.

It is, in fact, a subdirectory of the state's sex offender registry, providing information on only those deemed most likely to re-offend (Level 3).

And, due to a court injunction, only those Level 3 offenders who committed their crimes after Jan. 21, 1996, are listed on the state's Web site. That means information on 370 of the 3,250 high-risk sex offenders in the state is actually available online.

Members of Parents for Megan's Law, a Stony Brook-based organization formed to help parents protect their children from sexual predators, hope to see the state's Web site expand the listing to include the names of 7,269 low-risk (Levels 1, 2) sexual offenders in New York, as well as, provide details on every high-risk offender's modus operandi.

The group also wants the public to be able to access all of this information anonymously. Currently, to gain entry to the state's online registry, users must input their full names and complete addresses.

"As far as I know, we are the only state in the nation that is requesting name and address," said Laura Ahearn, executive director of Parents for Megan's Law, of the 26 states that have sex offender registries online.

"I feel that it's a barrier to access. If there are parents out there or community members or people who have been victimized who want to check on an individual, they might be afraid to because they feel their name is being logged somewhere."

The state also logs the phone numbers, names and addresses of those who utilize the 50-cent-per-call sex offender registry hot line (900-288-3838). User information is kept for "law enforcement purposes," said Quartararo, who declined to be more specific.

Unofficial version

Parents for Megan's Law is maintaining an unofficial version of the state's high-risk sex offender subdirectory on its own Web site ( so that the public can access the information anonymously. There is one caveat: The information is compiled by volunteers, so the registry is not as up-to-date as the state's.

However, one advantage of the Parents for Megan's Law subdirectory is that it lists each sex offender's modus operandi.

"We feel that information is vitally important," Ahearn said. "It helps parents understand what kind of an offender it is. It can be the difference between a person lurking behind a bush as compared with someone who used coercion . . . We are talking about modes of operation, how people burrow into children's lives."

Quartararo said the state doesn't list that information on its Web site because its often of a graphic nature. The public can obtain that information by calling the sex offender registry hot line, she noted.

The state's Web site does provide a great deal of information about the high-risk offenders that are listed, including date of birth, height, weight, eye color, aliases and scars, marks or tattoos. Most also have a picture.

At the top of every sex offender profile is the same line of warning to all those who access the information: "Anyone who uses this information to injure, harass or commit a criminal act against any person may be subject to criminal prosecution."

Robert Gangi, executive director of the Correctional Association of New York, fears that such warnings won't be enough to protect those listed in the registry from becoming the target of vigilantes. He sees other possible unintended consequences.

"In some cases, this will drive people underground," he said. "You might make it more likely for them to commit crimes because they can't connect with healthy and benign forces in the community and they can't lead stable lives."

Ahearn said Parents for Megan's Law educates the public that harassing or abusing those listed in the state's sex offender registry is not only illegal, but counterproductive.

"Our intent is not to run sex offenders out of the community. If the community wants the information, then the community has to use that information responsibly," Ahearn said. "It's so important to have the information in the first place; we don't want to lose it."

Copyright 2000 The Daily Gazette, by Katy Moeller.