The whereabouts of more than 20 percent of the sex offenders residing in Jackson County are unknown, according to a statewide audit released Monday.
Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway found local law enforcement across the state has “not adequately pursued” sex offenders who are out of compliance with reporting requirements. As a result, 1,259 sex offenders in Missouri — 7.9 percent of the 16,000 required to register — are missing.
Jackson County, with 439 out of 2,125 offenders out of compliance, is responsible for more than one third of those missing across the state. Nearly 14 percent of offenders in Cass County are non-compliant. In Platte County, the figure is 10 percent, and in Clay County, just 2.2 percent of offenders are out of compliance.
Galloway called the findings disturbing and alarming.
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“I’m a mother. I have three little boys,” Galloway said. “And of course, their safety is of the utmost priority to me. This sex offender registry is a way for the public to make informed decisions about keeping themselves safe in their communities. If the sex offender registry is inaccurate or incomplete, it provides that false sense of security.”
The audit found law enforcement agencies’ enforcement of reporting requirements inadequate.
“Our review determined many non-compliant sex offenders have been non-compliant for several years without adequate enforcement actions being taken by local law enforcement officials,” the audit says. “Of the 1,259 sex offenders identified as non-compliant, 678 offenders ... have exceeded their scheduled registration dates by more than a year.”
In a statement, Jackson County Sheriff Darryl Forte said the office has been actively monitoring and investigating registrations and violations for the past five months.
According to the release, his office has added another detective to the Sex Offender Registration Enforcement Unit, or SORE; created a full-time administrative position in the SORE unit; conducted three compliance checks around the county; given the SORE Unit more office space and used social media to ask for assistance locating non-compliant sex offenders.
“I was appalled at the lack of urgency the sheriff’s office had taken regarding sex offender registration,” said Forte, who was named interim sheriff in May. “We will continue to allocate resources to keep our community safe. I assure the community that we will continue to aggressively enforce the protection of the vulnerable and the innocent from predators.”
The audit evaluated the registry as it was reported in February and May 2018, before and immediately after Forte’s appointment.
At least 794 of the missing offenders statewide are “Tier III” offenders, meaning they committed severe sex crimes, such as rape, sodomy, child molestation, sex trafficking, incest or the “use or promotion of a child in a sexual performance.”
Missouri law requires those convicted of sex offenses to register with local law enforcement. Their names and addresses are made public through a database maintained by the Missouri Highway Patrol. Offenders are required to check in regularly and notify law enforcement if they move. Tier III offenders are required to register with local law enforcement every 90 days for the rest of their lives.
The audit found law enforcement agencies had taken out warrants for non-compliance for less than 10 percent of non-compliant offenders. According to the release, that means officers can’t take those offenders into custody when they encounter them in traffic stops or other interactions.
“It also means sex offenders can live indefinitely in locations unknown to law enforcement and the public with little risk of apprehension or prosecution for noncompliance,” the release says.
The county with the highest rate of non-compliant sex offenders was Stoddard County in southeast Missouri where 29 of the 115 offenders — 25.2 percent — are out of compliance.
Forte acknowledged in July the department was missing a large number of offenders and said it was important that the department track the offenders. Forte inherited the issue from his predecessor, Mike Sharp, who blamed the problem on a lack of staffing and funding.
“They could be your next-door neighbor,” Forte said at the time. “They could be at the playground where your grandkids and kids play on a regular basis. We don’t know where they are.”
At the time, Forte blamed outdated policies in the department and said revising those, beefing up staff and stepping up enforcement should be high on the sheriff’s priority list.
Galloway, a Democrat, was appointed auditor in 2014 by then-Gov. Jay Nixon after the death of Tom Schweich. She’s running this fall against Saundra McDowell, a Republican who has faced questions about whether she meets the state residency requirement to run.ent to run.