Archive for Thursday, May 30, 2002

Strangers among us

May 30, 2002

Some businesses and individuals across Bonner Springs have received flyers in recent weeks warning about a registered sex offender that has allegedly moved into the area.

While information that a convicted rapist might be living among them alarmed many of the people who received the flyers, he would not be the first registered sex offender to call Bonner Springs home.

A recent search of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation's Web site shows that seven registered sex offenders live in Bonner Springs, five in Edwardsville and two in Basehor.

They have been convicted of a variety of crimes, including first-degree child molestation, attempted kidnapping and rape.

The Web site allows people to search for registered sex offenders by city, county, zip code or name. Once that information is entered, the site shows a picture of registered offenders along with information about their last known address.

Only sex offenders who committed their offenses after April 14, 1994, when the Sex Offender Registration Act became law, are required to register.

The Sex Offender Registration Act in Kansas requires passive notification when an offender has moved into an area, said Jane Nohr, an assistant attorney general who serves as legal counsel for the KBI. In other words, the state must make the information about where offenders live available to the public, but the public is responsible for seeking out the information, either from the KBI, its Web site or the sheriff's department in the offender's respective county."The burden is on the individual," Nohr said.

Nohr said there was recently a bill in the state Legislature this past session that would have given law enforcement agencies more authority to actively notify nearby residents when a registered sex offender moves into the neighborhood, such as through the mail, by phone or by knocking on doors. However, that bill did not make it through the Legislature.

Despite the fact law enforcement agencies are not allowed to actively notify nearby residents, Nohr said the law does not restrict individuals from doing things to notify each other when a sex offender moves in nearby.

"Anybody could take it upon themselves and decide, 'I'm going to call everybody in the neighborhood and tell them what I found on the Internet,'" Nohr said.

However, if that is the route an individual decides to take, Nohr recommends consulting an attorney to make sure notifying neighbors doesn't leave that person vulnerable to a civil lawsuit by the offender.

While many people might not like the idea of a convicted child molester living down a few blocks from a local elementary school, Nohr said the Sex Offender Registration Act does not put limits on where an offender can live.

"There are no restrictions unless they have a court order," Nohr said. "We haven't seen it go to that extreme in Kansas, as far as I know."

Sgt. Rick Schubert, a Bonner Springs police officer, said there are many things parents can do to help keep their children safe, one of which is getting out in the neighborhood and meeting as many people as possible.

"Know your neighbors," Schubert said.

Beyond that, Schubert said parents need to use common sense to help keep their children safe.

"Know where your kids are all the time," he said.

Schubert said it is also important for residents to report any activity they believe is suspicious to the police.

To find out whether a registered sex offender lives in your neighborhood, visit the Kansas Bureau of Investigation's Web site at www.accesskansas.org/kbi/ro.htm or call the Wyandotte County Sheriff's Department at (913) 573-2861.

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