Post Independent opinion: Sex offender meeting raises difficult questions for local communities
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Last week, the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office hosted a public meeting to identify the presence of a “sexually violent predator” in Garfield County. A panel of experts from law enforcement, along with an expert in treating those who commit sex crimes, spoke to a full house of concerned residents.
Their presentation, which followed a format established by state law, leaves us asking questions about how we react to and deal with the presence of sex offenders in general, and this man in particular, in our community.
These questions are important to discuss as a community, as the answers often conflict. We want to protect our children and others who could potentially be victimized, but we should recognize that offenders who are complying with the registration laws are working to rebuild their lives.
Garfield County already is home to one other “sexually violent predator,” and to 112 registered sex offenders, which is a less serious classification.
These offenders have served their time and for now, they are compliant in registering, which includes ongoing monitoring by law enforcement. Their relatives, neighbors and employers can know who they are through the registry, and can help make sure the offenders are not exposed to the circumstances that might lead to a new assault.
At the meeting, the panelists drew a distinction between sex offenders who keep their registration current and are monitored, and the convicted sex offender who has recently arrived in the county, Ronald Noel.
While this distinction was not explained well in our meeting report last week, we have since learned that Noel has a spotty record of compliance with registration since his release from an Oregon prison in 2004.
So on one hand, panelists urged the community to give sex offenders who register and comply with the law a chance to settle in by renting them a place to live or offering a job. On the other hand, they urged the community to be vigilant in watching for Noel and reporting his presence in any suspicious circumstances, such as near a school or bus stop.
Unlike the tolerance the panelists hope to see extended to compliant sex offenders, they warned that it’s possible Noel will take advantage of other children, given the chance.
So is there a place for a person with this kind of history in our community? Are we secure enough to make a place for him here? These are questions we can’t answer, because we don’t know whether he will register and toe the line, or re-offend.
For those who have already experienced a sexual assault, or cared for an assault victim, this is likely to be seen as an unacceptable risk, and a call to heightened vigilance.
The reality is that registered sex offenders are living in our communities. The online registry system allows everyone to know who the convicted sex offenders are and where they live. The other reality is that some offenders will succeed in rehabilitating themselves, while others will fail.
By bringing these issues to light and offering in-depth information on sex offenses, the sheriff’s department is helping us to understand this frightening crime and to be aware of how we can protect ourselves and our loved ones.
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