Oregon lawmaker commits to closing a legal loophole on sex offenders
It's Wednesday, registration day, at the Portland Police Bureau's sex offender detail. Once a year on their birthday offenders are required to come in, get their picture taken and tell officers like Bridget Sickon where they're living and working.
It was Officer Sickon who issued the warning last year about Gordon Michael Strauss, a man convicted on four rapes with teenage girls as his victims. Strauss was deemed a psychopath and a sadist with no ability to feel remorse. He'd recently been released from a hospital in central Washington, moved to Portland and registered with police as living near Northwest 9th and Lovejoy in the Pearl District. But he listed himself as homeless.
Officer Sickon says her investigation revealed otherwise.
"We were hot on his trail. He was not homeless, but he was living in one of these buildings," explained Sickon as she walked with On Your Side Investigator Anna Canzano. "He was residing with a woman who was on Section 8."
Canzano asked, "Why would he say he was homeless?"
"Because he doesn't want us to know where he is. Because he doesn't want to know where we can reach out and touch him and grab him," said Sickon.
The experienced officer believes Strauss was exploiting a loophole in Oregon's law when it comes to homeless sex offenders.
In Washington, if offenders claim they're homeless, they have to check in with police once a week instead of once a year. In Oregon, if they claim they're homeless, there's really nothing extra they have to do when it comes to checking in. There's simply less accountability for them.
Oregon state Rep. Jeff Barker, D-Aloha, is a police sergeant who's says he's seen how molestation can ruin lives.
"You talk to any of these girls who are prostitutes, they've all been abused as kids," said Barker.
Now, as co-chair of Oregon's House Judiciary Committee, Barker is in a powerful position to change state laws.
"I think Washington has a great plan. Their program is much better than ours because you need to know where a dangerous sex offender is if they're released. If they had to report weekly, that would make sense to me. It would be inconvenient for them, but too bad. I'm more sympathetic to the children who are victims of these guys than I am the guys," said Barker.
He told Canzano he'll talk with the Judiciary Committee about homeless sex offenders before the Legislature returns to session in January.
"I am interested in doing something, especially since it's been brought to my attention by KATU that homeless people register once a year and nobody knows where they are. That's not good," said Barker.
He admits there are other issues with how sex offenders are monitored in Oregon. He says he's also willing to look at why so few sex offenders in Oregon are listed on the state police's public website -- roughly a thousand. That's only four percent of the 23,000 offenders in the state.
There are inconsistencies too with who's considered predatory.
For example, if you go to Multnomah County's sex offender supervision website, every offender listed is labeled "predatory."
But when Canzano went through and checked for all of those offenders in the Oregon State Police public website, only 65 percent (118 of the 179 offenders) showed up. Sixty-one of the Multnomah County offenders were nowhere on the state site.
The officers with Portland's sex offender detail say inconsistencies are also present between the Oregon State Police public website database and the database used by law enforcement.
They say these sex offenders are considered predatory within the law enforcement database but they don't show up in the OSP database the public can search:
Officer Sickon says she's talked with sex offenders who tell her all these factors play into their decisions to move to Oregon. Portland now has the distinction of having the highest number of sex offenders per capita, second in the nation to Las Vegas.
"They look around for, once they're done with their supervision, where can I go to live as freely as I can? Maybe I should give Oregon a try, let's see if I can put up with the rain. It seems to work for them," said Sickon.