Bangor forum urges residents to use sex offender registry

Posted Oct. 21, 2008, at 10:37 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 6:17 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — For the 100 residents who turned out at a public forum Tuesday night, two things stood out starkly: Bangor has more registered sex offenders than any other Maine city, and that number is only going to increase.

The city’s police and school departments presented the information session as a way to make Bangor parents aware of Maine’s Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act and to get them more familiar with the online registry.

Police Chief Ronald Gastia stressed from the outset that the forum was not meant to scare residents, although some of the topics were frightening just the same.

“We can’t protect everybody every minute of the day,” Gastia said flatly. “So we encourage people to get on the Web site. That’s how you stay informed.”

The program, held in Peakes Auditorium at Bangor High School, began with a brief overview of Maine’s sex offender registry laws, which were adopted in 1999 and amended in 2005. The Legislature is examining additional changes.

Sgt. Paul Kenison, who oversees the sex offender registry for the city, said there are now 220 offenders living, working or going to school in Bangor. Eighty percent of those offenders are lifetime registrants, which is determined by the severity of crimes. The other 20 percent are required to register for 10 years after their conviction.

Kenison went on to explain that most lifetime registrants fall into three categories: sexual assault crimes against children, sexual assault crimes against adults, and Internet crimes involving children. He did not provide a breakdown for Bangor’s 220 offenders.

The sergeant stressed that while the city reports all sex offender information, the state manages the site. Outside of that, he said when it comes to notification, “local agencies have discretion on the level of action needed to ensure public safety.”

Detective Kerry Warner, whose responsibility it is to check in with city offenders to ensure that they are registering, said she does the best she can but is limited by resources.

“I encourage people to check the registry as frequently as possible because it’s literally changing constantly,” she said, although she admitted that the list is daunting.

While the Police Department officials stressed the benefits of using the online registry, they acknowledged its limitations. For instance, residents cannot search by street, which means they might have to sift through 220 profiles to see whether their neighbor is an offender. Another concern is that not everyone knows what a specific crime means. Gross sexual assault, by statute, has several definitions referring to specific crimes.

“We are concerned about the level of information and access of the Web site and we don’t find it very user-friendly either,” Chief Gastia said.

Overriding Tuesday’s forum is the possibility that the state will adopt changes to the online registry; specifically, creating a tiered system that places offenders into categories based on risk.

Right now, though, police do not assign risk.

Gastia also referenced a series of pending lawsuits, known as “John Doe” cases, that could affect any changes to the registry. Those cases, which involve basic constitutional rights of sex offenders, should not be overlooked, he said.

“It’s important to remember that we’re talking about people who have been convicted but have done their time,” the chief said. “We don’t want anyone thinking that all [sex] crimes are against children.”

Most of the questions asked by those in attendance seemed to point out additional flaws in the online registry. Some worried about the seemingly high number of offenders but understood it as a burden to bear for the largest city in eastern Maine. Some left feeling a little conflicted.

“I’m glad I know more about how to get information,” said one woman after the forum. “But it still doesn’t seem easy.”

Maine’s online sex offender registry can be found at: www.sor.informe.org.

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