By Laura L. Rogers
The start of a new year always reminds me of a blank canvas — an opportunity to start fresh, a chance to reset and refocus goals and set priorities — both personally and professionally. Here at the SMART Office, the coming of the new year has offered us the perfect opportunity to focus our mission and goals, set priorities, define where the new year will take us and focus on the work we will accomplish.
The Adam Walsh Act was signed into law on July 27, 2006. The Act created a new opportunity for law enforcement to protect citizens by establishing a more detailed database of information on convicted sex offenders that law enforcement could search to determine potential suspects in ongoing sex offense cases. The Act directed the Attorney General to establish a single website that allowed anyone to search public sex offender registries from all 50 states, five principal U.S. territories, the District of Columbia and, for the first time, Native American tribes — the most comprehensive registry search of convicted sex offenders available to the public — which would enable all users to make better informed decisions about how to protect themselves, their children, family members and friends. The Act provided the ability for law enforcement to share information between jurisdictions so sex offenders could no longer simply move away from their past criminal acts. Today, because of the Act, the public is much better informed and has the opportunity to set parameters on their relationships with registered offenders. At the SMART Office, we are committed to increasing the information available to parents, individuals and children alike, to help each person be safe and make smarter decisions. We will continue to develop tools that provide for increased ease of information sharing and support greater public safety.
When the Act was passed in 2006, Congress mandated that all juveniles, 14 or older and adjudicated delinquent of a forcible sex crime, were required to register as sex offenders. Juveniles prosecuted as adults and convicted of forcible sex crimes were treated in the same fashion as their adult counterparts, and were required to register for life. In 2008, 2011 and 2016, modifications to the juvenile registration requirements were made, and the Supplemental Guidelines published in 2011 allow jurisdictions to decide whether to publish on a public registry the names of adjudicated juveniles 14 and older, convicted of a forcible sex crime. However, these juveniles are required to be part of the law enforcement-only database. This database provides law enforcement with a vital investigatory tool that is necessary and relied upon when a crime is committed and law enforcement is attempting to identify a suspect in a specific area. Having quick access to a classifiable group of potential suspects during an ongoing investigation can yield significant and beneficial results. Denying law enforcement officials this investigatory tool hampers their ability to quickly and thoroughly consider potential suspects and adequately investigate serious criminal conduct. The SMART Office is committed to working with jurisdictions to assist law enforcement in providing the tools needed to protect victims of sexual assault.
Since the Act was passed in 2006, Supplemental Guidelines were published in 2011 requiring sex offenders to report international travel 21 days in advance of such travel and submit information concerning the travel to the appropriate federal agencies and databases. Currently, more than half of U.S. states and territories and more than 130 tribes have implemented the international travel requirements. This process allows the U.S. to notify countries that sex offenders travel to, so they have advance notification of the sex offender’s travel plans. The SMART Office will continue to work with jurisdictions to increase implementation of the international travel notification requirement, as we are committed to protecting potential victims, wherever they may live.
In 2019, the SMART Office plans to host the National Symposium on Sex Offender Management and Accountability. This symposium is an excellent opportunity for stakeholders to obtain information and gain tools vital in the fight against sexual assault and child sexual abuse, as well as facilitate networking on the national level between registry and enforcement officials, whose work intersects as sex offenders move (and abscond) between jurisdictions. Learning sessions may include identification and monitoring of sex offenders, with a focus on effectively sharing information both within and outside of the communities and jurisdictions; specialized sex offender populations including elderly and intellectually impaired; the psychopathy of sex offenders; how sex offenders’ movements and behaviors are affected by different jurisdictions’ criminal and registration laws and regulations; tracking absconders; technology-facilitated crimes against children; and International Megan's Law travel and child sex tourism. Key topics planned include the prevention of and response to sexual offending, including the protection of vulnerable populations, such as children, young athletes and those with intellectual and physical disabilities, and effectively sustaining a sex offender registration and notification program.
2019 will mark 12 years of the SMART Office being in operation. Much good work has been accomplished, but there is still more to do. We work every day thinking of the innocent lives that have been lost or forever devastated by sexual assault and abuse. We work every day to continue to build a comprehensive web of sex offender notification and registration. We work every day to assist jurisdictions with their implementation efforts to assure comprehensive minimum standards of sex offender registration nationwide. At SMART, we will continue to work with jurisdictions to assist in achieving and maintaining substantial implementation. Only by national participation can we achieve the widespread benefits of a comprehensive sex offender registration system. I look forward to our continued progress in 2019.