More than 1,200 registered sex offenders are unaccounted for in Missouri and more than half of them fall into the “most dangerous” category, according to the findings of a new statewide audit.
The results of the audit, which was released Monday, indicate that of about 16,000 convicted sex offenders in the state, 1,259 are not complying with registration requirements. Of that number, 794 are classified as level three offenders, which are deemed the most dangerous or with the greatest chance of committing another offense.
State Auditor Nicole Galloway said the findings are “alarming.”
“As it stands, the sex offender registry really provides a false sense of security,” Galloway said at a news conference in St. Louis.
She said information examined during the audit was gleaned from the state’s sexual offender registration program. The number of sex offenders unaccounted for, according to Galloway, is due in part to weaknesses in state laws, “inadequate enforcement” of registration requirements and poor management of the sex offender registry.
“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,” Galloway said. “But if the law isn’t enforced, it’s not effective and public safety is compromised.”
Missouri statutes require a person convicted of a sex offense to register their name, address and other information with law enforcement. The information is then made public through a website maintained by the Missouri State Highway Patrol. A registered sex offender must also verify the information at regular intervals and notify authorities if they change addresses.
Anyone who fails to register as a sex offender could face additional felony charges. However, the audit found offenders are escaping prosecution. Arrest warrants have only been issued in approximately 10 percent of the cases involving noncompliant offenders, according to the report, meaning no one is actively pursuing the missing sex offenders.
“Law enforcement can’t track the location of registered sex offenders if sex offender laws are not enforced,” Galloway 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.”
Jackson County is reportedly responsible for more than one-third of the missing registered sex offenders
In a statement to the Kansas City Star, interim Jackson County Sheriff Darryl Forte said his office has spent the past five months actively monitoring and investigating registration violations.
“We will continue to allocate resources to keep our community safe,” Forte said. “I assure the community that we will continue to aggressively enforce the protection of the vulnerable and the innocent from predators.”
The Associated Press reported similar problems have been found in other states. An August audit in Wisconsin reportedly identified 2,735 missing registered sex offenders and a 2017 audit in Massachusetts revealed authorities did not know the whereabouts of nearly 1,800 registered sex offenders.
Send David Lohr an email or follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.