Crime

Sex offenders outnumber monitors nearly 800 to 1 in Pierce County

The numbers are enough to worry most people.

Pierce County is home to 2,396 registered sex offenders. Of those, 582 are deemed by law enforcement to be the most dangerous to the community.

Another 1,787 lower-level offenders are not listed in online databases, so the public doesn’t know what they’ve done or where they live.

Three detectives — one in Pierce County and two in Tacoma — are tasked full-time with monitoring the thousands of sex offenders, all but 76 of whom are men.

“It’s a daunting task to say the least,” Tacoma police detective Doug Fuller said.

The job boils down to making sure offenders are living where they say they are and, when they are not, trying to prove it.

It sounds simple enough but becomes a resource nightmare, detectives said.

“No investigation is ever as easy as the community thinks it is,” Fuller said.

THE PROCEDURE

Offenders convicted of a sex crime have three business days to register with the Sheriff’s Department and disclose where they’re going to live, work and go to school.

They have their fingerprints and photograph taken. Then they are designated a level 1, 2 or 3 offender based on their score from a 10-question form that signals how much of a risk they are to the community.

State law requires law enforcement officers to check on offenders one to four times a year, depending on their level. That doesn’t include when offenders move, which happens fairly frequently.

A state grant managed by the Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs helps pay for the effort.

The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department receives about $450,000 each year and allocates money to the Tacoma, Lakewood and Puyallup police departments to pay for overtime so officers can do verification checks on offenders.

The money also funds a deputy prosecutor position to handle the influx of cases where offenders either don’t register or lie about where they’re living.

MAKING THE CASE

Proving an offender is living somewhere other than his registered address can be tricky.

Sex offenders have no legal obligation to speak with detectives. They don’t even have to open their door.

Loved ones sometimes claim the offender lives there even if he stays elsewhere, and detectives are too pressed for time to tail offenders and prove they’re not living at their registered addresses.

“The frustration is with the law. They don’t have any teeth to enforce them,” sheriff’s detective Ray Shaviri said. “You have to get creative.”

Shaviri, who’s responsible for monitoring about 1,300 sex offenders in the county, is a bit of a one-man show.

The nameplate on his office door reads “the Det. Ray Shaviri” because he’s the only detective in his unit, which also consists of a supervisor and two civilians who help with massive amounts of paperwork and record-keeping.

His tactics have become more innovative as he tries to keep track of so many offenders.

For example, Shaviri once suspected a Level 2 offender, 49-year-old Trinnel Dial, was not living at his brother’s Tacoma house as he claimed, despite the detective warning him to follow the rules.

Over the span of four months, detectives stopped by Dial’s registered address 19 times. They came at all times of the day and night, even on weekends. Dial was seldom there.

Then Shaviri found Dial at his girlfriend’s Lakewood apartment, where he allegedly spent most of his days sitting in a lawn chair out front talking to neighbors.

In May, detectives set up a surveillance camera to record Dial’s movements.

“The defendant was seen going into the apartment most times late evening and coming back out after noon the following date,” according to court records.

Shaviri went to arrest Dial on July 14.

He knocked on the door of the girlfriend’s apartment. A woman answered. Two deputies served the warrant and put Dial in handcuffs, sitting him on the couch.

“Remember what I said back then?” Shaviri asked Dial. “I said you gotta stick with the program. All you have to do is give an address. All you gotta do is tell us where you live.”

Dial was apologetic. He told the detective he didn’t want to register his true address because he didn’t want his neighbors to know he was a convicted sex offender.

Prosecutors have charged Dial with failure to register as a sex offender, which is his third offense. Multiple convictions of the charge could land him back in prison.

ALERTING THE PUBLIC

In Dial’s case, Shaviri said, he wouldn’t have notified his neighbors even though state law gives law enforcement the right to tell the public when a sex offender is living in their neighborhood.

The Sheriff’s Department notifies the community only about Level 3 offenders, those considered most likely to reoffend. Dial is considered a moderate risk.

In those cases, Shaviri prints fliers with the offender’s name, what he was convicted of and the street he’s living on and hangs them within a half mile radius of the offender’s new home.

He also knocks on doors to make sure neighbors are aware of the situation and sends the bulletins to nearby schools and day cares.

Tacoma police used to do the same but stopped years ago because it took too much time.

Now, the department emails schools, the parks department, the City Council and neighborhood groups when a sex offender moves into their area. Those groups can notify residents if they choose.

Officials say it’s important to know where sex offenders are living, which is why they have a deputy prosecutor designated to try cases where offenders don’t follow the rules.

“If these sex offenders are living in places we can’t monitor at all, that’s not a good place for our community to be,” deputy prosecutor Susan Kavanaugh said.

From June 2013 to June 2014, prosecutors charged 188 people with failure to register as a sex offender. Forty-five of the offenders have failed to register or not been truthful about their address at least three times.

If convicted, offenders can serve from four to 57 months. Those with multiple convictions can be ordered into community custody for three years during which are monitored more closely.

Kavanaugh said she’s diligent about prosecuting the cases but there must be sufficient evidence to prove sex offenders aren’t living where they claim to be. That often boils down to statements from family members, neighbors, apartment managers or friends.

“I’m looking to make sure I can prove the case,” she said.

More often than not, the Prosecutor’s Office does.

In the 188 cases filed between June 2013 to June 2014, prosecutors had a 52 percent conviction rate. They lost 8 percent of the cases, and the remaining 40 percent are unresolved.

In the meantime, the numbers keep growing.

On Tuesday, three new sex offenders registered their addresses and seven listed new places to live.

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