Metro

A state official is defending the sex offender registry after a critical audit

State Auditor Suzanne Bump recently released an audit critical of the Sex Offender Registry Board.
John Blanding/Globe Staff/file 2016
State Auditor Suzanne Bump recently released an audit critical of the Sex Offender Registry Board.

State Auditor Suzanne Bump called Tuesday for the state’s Sex Offender Registry Board to step up its efforts to keep track of the convicted sex offenders who are scattered in communities across the state, saying the board was “falling short” in its responsibility to protect the public.

But Public Safety Secretary Daniel Bennett said Bump was ignoring the “reality of how this agency is set up.”

“The Sex Offender Registry Board is not an investigative agency,” he said.

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The two were speaking before an oversight hearing held by the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security.

The lawmakers slated the hearing in the wake of an audit by Bump that found that the board, which is in charge of classifying sex offenders based on their likelihood of reoffending and then publishing their addresses to warn communities, did not have current addresses on file for nearly 1,800 sex offenders who were required to register.

“At the most fundamental level, what is needed at SORB is a change of culture and mindset, from one that is passive — just managing and processing information that comes to them — to one that is active, in which they seek out information about those who are out of compliance, innovate to overcome the challenges that they face, and take advantage of the tools and resources at their disposal to ensure that they are meeting their mission,” Bump said.

The audit “gave us a lot of good material and good things to look at,” Bennett said. “We’re going to be a much better place for it.”

But he also said, “There is not one investigator who is assigned to the Sex Offender Registry Board. . . . The police do the investigation, and it’s a good thing because there’s 25,000 of them [across the state]. They put these rotten people who hurt children and other people in prison.”

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Kevin Hayden, chairman of the board, said, “A law enforcement agency we definitely are not. When it comes to registration and when it comes to offenders being in violation, we rightfully — and have to — work with law enforcement agencies all across the Commonwealth in order to effectuate that.”

He said much of the daily work of the board is focused around the process of determining offenders’ level of dangerousness, a process involving hearings, appeals, and the writing of decisions.

Bump also criticized the board for not taking advantage of data-sharing agreements with the Department of Revenue and the Department of Transitional Assistance that could help track down offenders.

Hayden said those agreements were “works in progress” that the board has now gotten up and running. He also said the board also shares data with a half dozen other agencies.

Bennett, whose secretariat oversees both the board and the State Police, said one answer might be instead for State Police to work with local police to step up efforts to find sex offenders who have fallen off the radar.

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State officials also said the board was expanding its notifications to local police when sex offenders are in violation of their reporting requirements.

Currently, police are only notified in the city or town where the offender last reported living or working. Now, officials said, notification will go out to all jurisdictions relating to the offender, including past, inactive addresses.

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