(JEFFERSON CITY, Mo.)— Law enforcement officials in the state of Missouri don't know the whereabouts of more than 1,200 registered sex offenders -- including almost 800 offenders that would be classified as the most dangerous -- a new report from State Auditor Nicole Galloway finds.
According to Galloway's audit, Buchanan County is in the 0-5% range.
Galloway released her audit of Missouri's sexual offender registration (SOR) program Monday. State law requires those convicted or found guilty of sexual offenses to register their name, address and other information with the chief local law enforcement official, who is most often the sheriff. That information is made public through a database and website maintained by the Missouri State Highway Patrol. Offenders must verify the information at regular intervals and notify the appropriate law enforcement officials if they move.
Due to inadequate enforcement of the registration requirements at the local level, 1,259 registered sex offenders failed to follow the law. That number represents 7.9 percent of the almost 16,000 offenders required to register. Auditor Galloway said in several counties and the city of St. Louis, the locations of over 10 percent of registered sex offenders were unknown to law enforcement. The report also highlighted a need to improve management of the SOR database and weaknesses in current state laws.
"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," Auditor Galloway said. "But if the law isn't enforced, it's not effective and public safety is compromised."
Although failure to comply with registration requirements is a felony, the audit found that less than 10 percent of offenders identified as noncompliant had an active arrest warrant for noncompliance. The failure to obtain arrest warrants prevents other law enforcement agencies from taking noncompliant offenders into custody on that charge during traffic stops and other interactions. It also means sex offenders can live indefinitely in locations unknown to law enforcement and the public with little risk of apprehension or prosecution for noncompliance.
Missouri's sex offender registration law took effect in 1995, and the law was updated this year to classify sex offenders into three tiers based on the severity of the offense. Those who commit Tier III offenses -- including rape, sodomy or child molestation in the first or second degree -- must register with local law enforcement every 90 days for their lifetime. The audit found that at least 794 of the 1,259 non-compliant offenders met the criteria for Tier III classification.
"Law enforcement can't track the location of registered sex offenders if sex offender laws are not enforced," the Auditor said. "This also takes away the ability of Missourians to effectively use the sex offender registry when making decisions to protect themselves and their families."
The audit also pointed to the need for the Missouri State Highway Patrol to improve its procedures for maintaining the SOR database and supporting local law enforcement efforts to enforce registration requirements. Those include updating the compliance status of offenders in accordance with internal policy, and establishing agreements with other state agencies to perform batch data matches to locate absconders or determine if sex offenders were actually deceased.
Finally, Auditor Galloway said the Legislature should make revisions to strengthen state law, both on allowing the State Auditor's Office to access necessary court records when auditing the sexual offender registration program, and on requiring background checks for school volunteers.
The full audit of the sexual offender registration program can be found here.