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North Dakota works to track registered sex offenders

Keeping track track of sex offenders in North Dakota requires technology and the teamwork of law enforcement and communities across the state.

There are among nearly 1,900 sex offenders in the state, according to Liz Brocker, a spokeswoman for the North Dakota Attorney General's Office.

A website for the Attorney General's Office tracks the locations of sex offenders in the state, based on their residence or place of employment. Staff with the office work extensively to keep the website up to date with extensive information on offenders, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said.

Meanwhile, law enforcement in communities across the state work to register offenders, check up on them and make sure they are compliant with state law. The compliance rate for registration is almost 98 percent, Brocker said.

"I think we have one of the best sex offender websites in the country," Stenehjem said, adding local communities, do a good job of keeping track of sex offenders.

Up-to-date system

Residents can generate a list of sex offenders living in their cities or counties by going to www.sexoffender.nd.gov.

The website also has a tool for mapping out offenders. Icons will show where they live on a map, and by clicking on the flags, residents can see photos of offenders, as well as their names, addresses and levels of risk. Clicking on a person's name will take residents to another page that gives more details on the person, including physical descriptions and the offenses they committed.

Residents also can search lifetime and high-risk offenders by name.

Stenehjem said residents should take advantage of the website to see if sex offenders are living in the area, adding staff work hard to keep the database up to date.

"People are entitled to know where they are living," Stenehjem said of sex offenders.

Since the website updates in real time, the state doesn't track how many offenders live in the state each year, Brocker said.

Meeting standards

Each state runs its own sex offender registry, though there are federal guidelines that are supposed to be followed.

The U.S. Department of Justice has 15 guidelines established by the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, but only 18 states have substantially implemented the rules, according to an April 5 progress check from the Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking Office, also known as SMART.

North Dakota and Minnesota have not substantially implemented SORNA, the Justice Department stated in a March letter. North Dakota met all areas to some degree, but some guidelines listed for improvement included offense-based tiering for registration, having a 21-day advance notice of international travel, posting all required offenders with information and using an email notification system to alert the public when an offender moves into and out of their area.

The state is working to comply with some of the guidelines, Stenehjem said, including implementing the 21-day notice for international travel. But it doesn't want to make its system less useful to fit government standards.

For example, North Dakota uses high-, moderate- and low-risk categories based on risk assessments for reoffending, while the Justice Department wants tier organization based on crimes committed.

Stenehjem said using the federal system's guidelines, including tier-based registration, would be less useful to residents. North Dakota reviews each offender, their case and their circumstances to determine the likelihood of becoming a repeat offender.

He acknowledged some descriptions of the crimes offenders committed on the state website are graphic, but it's important for residents to know as much information as possible about an offender, he said.

"We're not going to adopt a system that is less useful," he said.

State leaders feel the state system is better than the "one-size-fits-all" federal system, Stenehjem said, and he said North Dakota shouldn't be penalized for that.

The state has attempted at least twice since 2011 to apply for Justice Department status that says it has substantially implemented SORNA, and Stenehjem said he plans to do so again. He has also lobbied to Congress to change the federal guidelines.

Risk levels for North Dakota inmates are assigned several months prior to their release, but it may take weeks to gather information and records on an offender who moves to North Dakota, according the the Attorney General's Office.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

(701) 780-1248
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