Essex County District Attorney Kristy Sprague, front, listens during the sexual offender laws task force meeting Oct. 22 along with local school superintendents Paul Savage (AVCS), A. Paul Scott (ELCS) and William Larrow (Moriah).
Government officials from Clinton and Franklin County came together with peers from Essex County Oct. 22 to discuss the issue of sexual crimes, especially those involving children.
The sexual offenders laws task force committee was the brainchild of Jay Supervisor and county Chairman Randy Douglas after he heard from residents in his town concerned about registered sex offenders living near buildings in the AuSable Valley Central School District.
“There were some concerned citizens in different areas about how we share information and the rules and regulations in the sex offender registry laws,” Douglas said. “I think that it is important today that as we share information that we all come away from this realizing that we are doing what is best to keep our communities safe.”
Essex County Attorney Daniel Manning said that enacting new laws at a county level could prove a challenge with many being challenged on the basis of pre-emption.
“If the state of New York has enacted a law that already covers a subject matter and has decided to take control of that field, then the courts will not allow local municipalities to enact local laws that are accompanying the state law,” Manning said. “You would have a severe challenge to it.”
Essex County District Attorney Kristy Sprague took time to talk about the different levels of sexual offenders on the registry, saying that Level 1 offenders are the least likely to commit another offense, while Level 2 represented a moderate risk and Level 3 a severe risk.
Sprague added that she felt the laws needed to be updated to bring them into the electronic age.
“One of my main complaints is that this has never been updated to include cyber crimes,” she said. “There is nothing on here saying that someone used a computer to gain a relationship with a child. We are seeing a lot of that where texting and messaging is being used as the first contact. If there is one suggestion I would make today, it would be to change that scoring system to include cyber crimes.”
Richelle Beach of the Clinton County Child Advocacy Center said that in the bigger discussion of sexual offenses, the conversation has to also focus on prevention.
“Only 5 percent of the cases involve strangers,” Beach said. “I have only seen two cases of stranger case in Clinton County, and we were unable to confirm one of those. The other was a girl that was trying to hook up with someone online. These are trusted individuals. These are people that have taken years to build up the trust of the family. We need to get away from the idea that the guy in the white van is going to pull up and run away with our child. It is happening with people that we know and it is happening in homes where there are people that we thought we could trust.”
Sprague also said that there needs to be services in place to help victims, especially in cases where families are pitted against each other.
“The biggest thing is having services for the child so that they do continue to testify,” Sprague said. “Can you imagine being 6 years old standing up in front of a courtroom and testify to a bunch of strangers about being raped by someone you loved and then have your mother get up on that stand and testify against you?”
Elizabethtown Supervisor Margaret Bartley said that she had a new perspective after the meeting.
“I came in here thinking about where the sex offenders are living and that seems to be the least of our concerns,” Bartley said. “It seems that you are saying that we need to look at the bigger issues and child advocacy.”
“The people that we are worried about are in the homes right now,” Beach said. “The red dots on the map are people that we are already watching.”
Essex County Sheriff Richard Cutting said that his office routinely makes patrols to watch out for registered offenders and make between six to eight arrests annually of those who have moved or changed their living circumstances without notifying the authorities.
Clinton County Sheriff Dave Favro also spoke about the Sex Offender Watch program which is offered in his county.
“We need to do everything that we can to help preserve the youth and keep them safe,” he said. “I think that there are a couple of things that we need to look at. I'm convinced that what we need to do as a society, collectively, is that we need to get together and we need to educate. We need to let the victims know before they are victims that this is wrong.
People spend a lot of time in their home, and they spend a lot of time on their computer. We have to hit them in their homes, where they are going to be.”
The discussion also involved local school administrators.
“This is the best first start for us,” AuSable Valley Superintendent Paul Savage said. “What people are hearing here is no different then what we are hearing. I think that this is a great start, and I don't think that we should stop. We need to keep this discussion open.”
“There have been strong partnerships that have been established over time that I saw through my work when I was in Clinton County,” current Elizabethtown-Lewis interim and former Peru Superintendent A. Paul Scott said. “It has been very helpful for us to be able to learn more through the partnerships that we have. We were appreciated that we were invited to be here to talk about this issue. I would encourage you based on what we have learned today to looking into the same type of partnership that there is in Clinton County.”
“One of the biggest things in my district is continuing to get the information to us so we can get the information out to the parents and continue to educate the students and parents,” Moriah Superintendent William Larrow said. “We need to continue to get funding that will allow us to bring programs into the school would be helpful for us.”