Mon, Feb. 17

Sex offenders closely watched in Yavapai

Any time a child in the news vanishes and a sex offender is identified as a culprit, lawmakers nationwide rush to close any legal loophole.

The Legislature this term created new provisions to sex offender law to clarify and strengthen enforcement. New legislation would prohibit sex offenders from "clustering" in the same apartment complex or other multi-family dwelling in Maricopa County. If a person violates the registration requirements, that person may be subject to lifetime probation.

In Arizona, the Department of Public Safety director has created a Swat and Fugitive squad to track down sex offenders who have disappeared. About 1,000 such sex offenders of 14,000 registered in Arizona are off the radar.

In Yavapai County, 90 prosecuted sex offenders are registered with the Adult Probation Department. Unless they were young juveniles at the time of their arrests, more sex offenders are now serving lifetime probation, according to the department's director.

Director Billie Grobe says only one in that number has absconded. Marc Jason Smith, formerly of Clarkdale, has been sought on a warrant since 1995.

Grobe says sex offenders are a special class of probationer and are handled in two special caseloads, one for the Verde Valley and one west of Mingus. She says some of those offenders are also seriously mentally ill.

Three officers are trained to monitor sex offenders in Yavapai County at all hours. One officer conducts surveillance. The probation enforcement officers are also trained in computer forensics since some sex offenders collect computer pornography.

Offenders who have sex crimes in their background are watched even when a new crime is not specifically sex- related. Grobe says, investigators will be suspicious of a subject who may have committed a burglary, for example, "where a sex offense never happened."

She maintains that the department wants to make sure "that no new victims are created."

If an offender absconds, the county attorney will seek revocation of probation, and impose new felony charges against a violator.

The Department of Corrections within three days of release must notify the sheriff in the county where a subject intends to reside and, according to state law, the public must then be notified. An offender must make a notification within 72 hours of a name or address change. Arizona also maintains a sex offender database where a resident can find information about registered sex offenders in his community.

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