ALLEN COUNTY, Ind. (WANE) – There are more than 450 sex offenders living in Allen County, keeping the local registry office very busy. The office focuses on three main components: offenders’ registrations at the physical office, the address verifications that the team leaves the office to do, and the investigations for violations.
To put it simply, the work for the Sex Offender Registry and Notification Team, or S.O.R.N. never stops.
“There’s constantly people being re-incarcerated for violations of probation or parole. There’s constantly offenders being released from the Department of Correction for either the first time for a sex offense, and we’ve got to get them up and running or they’re getting out for a second or third probation violation or a failure to register case that we did and they’ve served their time and they’re now coming back, just lots going on,” Cpl. Mike Smothermon, a detective with the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Team, said. “Not all offenders have the thousand foot rule. Not all offenders register every 90 days. Not all offenders have to register for life. So, there’s a lot to it. It’s pretty complex.”
Offenders pay an annual fee of $50 and an additional $5 every time they get a new address. The move requires them to go into the office to file new paperwork, and officers also have to do home visits to verify the change.
Depending on the severity of the crime, offenders have to register annually or every 90 days. 33 percent of those offenders are classified as sexually violent predators
“A third of our registry has to come into us every 90 days, and we have to go to them every 90 days,” Smothermon said. “I think the thing that bothers me the most is the general perception of the public that people think you can get peeing in the park or something or in an alley and end up on the sex offender list registry. That’s just not true. These are significant criminal acts that these offenders have to register for. They’ve been convicted of a true sex crime.”
All offenders also have to notify the department every time they move, take a new job, or even change vehicles.
“The nature of the beast is that offenders move a lot,” Smothermon said. “I think there are some causes for that. Possibly wearing out a welcome, staying with family or friends and no longer being welcome after a month or two or three and then having to move or the thousand foot rule comes into play. There are a lot of reasons that offenders move.”
Every move means an offender has to go into the office to file new paperwork, and officers also have to do home visits to verify the change. That adds up to more than a thousand trips a year. Only two detectives and one officer work in the actual division, but it takes multiple departments like FWPD and New Haven to get all of the address verifications or home visits done.
“They’ll move and not report the move to us. Then, we find out about it through tips from the public or when we go out and do address verifications and find out that they’re not really living at their registered address, and that’s a crime,” Smothermon said.
While the main focus is keeping the offenders’ paperwork and files up to date, it also launches investigations when offenders fail to register. Smothermon said there are several ways an offender can fail to register, including forgetting to register annually or every 90 days and not reporting changes within 72 hours. Here’s a look at the number of cases submitted during the last few years for failure to register, which is a felony:
Smothermon said the department hasn’t lost a single case in those years.
Under Indiana, there are two length requirements for sex offenders, either a 10-year or life-long registration. Those can adjust if someone moves from out of state.
“Indiana will honor the period of our state or their state, whichever is longer. So, if what they did would be a 10 year registration in Indiana, but they’re moving here from another state that would requires 15 or 25, it’ll be 15 or 25 here in Indiana,” Smothermon said.
The 92 counties across Indiana used to all have different systems, but it’s gotten better over the last decade or so. Without a streamlined system, prosecuting offenders can become very difficult because the proper paperwork isn’t in place.
“We are firm, fair, and consistent. If these offenders know what’s required of them. We all ensure that the offenders don’t leave here with questions. They know what they’re supposed to do, and I sleep just fine at night after arresting because I know that I took the time to go over the rules, spell everything out, and they don’t leave here until they are clear on what’s expected and what’s required by the law,” Smothermon said. “They understand that we’re not here to judge them. We’re here to collect information and explain what their role is. They get to know us. We get to know them, and it’s just a very professional relationship. It’s not a judgmental deal.”
As one can imagine, working in the division can be very emotionally-draining, but the detectives said every tough day is worth it.
“What keeps me going is the community notification part of it. There’s no tangible way that I’ll ever know or any of us will ever know how many children we were able to keep safe. But, by doing what we do, we have it in the back of our minds that people are using the information that we publish on the register website and acting in a more safe manner. I’ll never know how many kids weren’t molested because of the work that I’ve done. Hopefully, that’s a great number and over the years, the number climbs. I hope that doing what I do is positively impacting the community in the information that we’re able to provide,” Smothermon said.
To sign up for the notification system, click here.
“Parents will parent their kids better with being armed with this information. That’s our goal through this office is to ultimately publish the best, accurate information to keep the public safe,” Smothermon said.