Boston Herald

 

More work to do on sex predators
By Boston Herald editorial staff
Monday, March 15, 2004

 

There's an old saying that goes something like, "if you have a problem, hang a lantern on it.'' In other words, exposing a problem is the first step toward solving it.

 

     In the case of laggardly efforts to protect the public from sex offenders, the media spotlight has sure helped, but still more needs to be done.

 

     A Herald/Fox 25 investigation in November revealed that officials had absolutely no idea where 8,800, or some 49 percent of sex offenders were. Since then, state and local officials have made remarkable progress tracking them down.

 

     More than 3,000 offenders have been accounted for, in part as a result of aggressive state and local police sweeps to round them up.

 

     And the Sex Offender Registry Board has quickened the pace of classifying predators' risk to re-offend, paving the way for public notification of their whereabouts.

 

     Legislative changes - allowing the posting of offenders' photos on the Internet and requiring registration before an inmate leaves prison - are also important improvements.

 

     But there can be no resting on laurels by state public safety officials and lawmakers when it comes to dangerous sex offenders.

 

     Even now, no Google search will reveal the identities of the state's most dangerous predators because a court-imposed injunction continues to bar the Web posting. And a scheduled hearing this week on lifting it may not be the last word if public defenders fight the move all the way to the state's highest court.

 

     But the Legislature is still sitting on two measures which will do more to protect the public from predators than the Sex Offender Registry, even posted on the Internet, ever could.

 

     Imposing parole conditions and constant monitoring by parole officers will allow officials to keep far closer tabs on predators than simply knowing where they live allows. A bill extending lifetime parole to more sex offenders was heard before the Criminal Justice Committee on Feb. 4, but there has been no further action on it.

 

     Another measure would expand the definition of a sexually dangerous person to broaden the applicability of the civil commitment procedure. The Senate passed this bill unanimously in October. The House has yet to assign it to a committee.

 

      The impetus for the civil commitment change was the murder of 30-year-old Alexandra Zapp at a rest area more than two years ago by a serial offender who escaped civil commitment through a loophole. Let's hope media coverage of yet another murder isn't necessary before lawmakers act.