Sunday, July 29, 2007
The Bravery Award should be for Cpl. Brendan Hartigan from the Sheriff Department of Durham, N.C. He really gets tough with sex offenders and real criminals. I am hoping that other Cities Implement his program.
Durham, N.C. gets tough with sex offenders.
By John Stevenson
DURHAM, N.C. — Indictments against improperly registered sex offenders are at a record high in Durham — thanks to improving local enforcement procedures and recently toughened state laws.
Four indictments for the felony crime were returned in last week's grand jury session alone, on top of a half dozen in the session before that.
"There's a lot of sex offenders out there," said Cpl. Brendan Hartigan of the Sheriff's Office, who is laboring to streamline enforcement mechanisms in Durham.
Between 250 and 280 Durham sex offenders are on the registration rolls at any given time, according to Hartigan.
As of late last week, five were women.
"It's definitely very rewarding," Hartigan said of his relatively new assignment. "I've had a lot of good jobs for the sheriff, but this is the best so far. It clearly involves public safety. I can go home at the end of the day and feel good about it."
In fact, public safety is the paramount goal of the registration program, which first was enacted in North Carolina in 1996, then revised in 1998, 2001, 2005 and 2006.
Convicted sex offenders must register with their local sheriff upon release from prison. If they receive probation, registration is required immediately.
Their names and addresses are published on a state-operated Web site so people will know where they are.
Each registration lasts for 10 years. Repeat offenders must sign on for life.
"There is pretty much a no-tolerance rule about this," said prosecutor Jan Paul, who runs a family protection unit in the Durham County District Attorney's Office.
"There aren't many, if any, excuses for not registering properly," Paul added. "One of the main reasons is so members of the public will know when convicted sex offenders are living in their neighborhoods. It's a very important community-protection measure. As they say, knowledge is power. It's important for the public to be informed."
Under the most recent registration law, sex offenders must report in person to the Sheriff's Office twice a year. Before, they had to report only once a year, and they often could do so in writing.
In addition, the latest law allows friends or relatives of sex offenders to be prosecuted if they attempt to hide a convicted person who isn't properly registered.
Officers may photograph offenders whenever their appearance changes -- if they grow a new beard or experience a noticeable gain or loss in weight, for example.
Even killers are not subjected to such stringent scrutiny when they leave prison.
But senior Assistant District Attorney Tracey Cline said the registration program is necessary because of the special "compulsion" that motivates sex offenders.
"When a person is a convicted sex offender, it's totally different from someone convicted of robbery, selling drugs or even murder," said Cline. "Sex offenders have a compulsion to do what they do. There is treatment for it, but sometimes it doesn't work. Parents need to know where these people are so they can protect their children."
According to some defense attorneys, the registration program unnecessarily violates the privacy of defendants and potentially interferes with their rehabilitation.
"Clearly, the privacy interests of a person are important, even if he is a convicted criminal," she said. "But in these [sex offender] cases, the protection of the public obviously outweighs the defendants' privacy. If you know you have a sex offender living across the street, you're going to keep your eye on your 6- or 7-year-old when they go out in the yard to play."
John Fitzpatrick, president of the Durham Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, echoed that sentiment.
"When you're convicted of a sex crime, you should lose certain liberties," he said. "Children must be protected. If truth be told, public safety is more important than a defendant's right to privacy."
The pertinent state Web site shows that only six of North Carolina's 100 counties have more registered sex offenders than Durham's 237. Those counties are Cumberland at 359, Forsyth at 371, Gaston at 262, Guilford at 494, Mecklenburg at 569 and Wake at 586.
Neighboring Orange County has 70 registrants, while Person County has only 46, according to the Web site.