Here’s how hundreds of sex offenders fell off the grid in Massachusetts

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CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) - More than 1,000 sex offenders have fallen off the grid in Massachusetts.

It's a story the 22News I-Team first uncovered in September.

A state audit found the Sex Offender Registry Board, or SORB, is missing the addresses of nearly 18-hundred sex offenders, including more than 900 who have never been classified, which means they’re not listed as sex offenders in the state’s system.

State Auditor Suzanne Bump told the I-Team, the audit exposed a failure in public safety. “What we found was rather disturbing. We see an agency that wasn't able to meet its mission. It was not properly classifying or tracking individuals who were supposed to be registered sex offenders. That left police officers, the public, and past victims without the knowledge that the law guarantees them to have, as to the whereabouts of Level 2 and 3 sex offenders.”

Normally, all you have to do is search an address or name on SORB's website to find out where a sex offender lives, but hundreds are either missing from the website, or have the wrong address listed.

SORB admitted to the 22News I-Team that their system needs to be updated, but said the audit doesn't accurately portray the problem.

Public Safety Secretary Daniel Bennett oversees the Sex Offender Registry Board. He said a majority of the unclassified sex offenders who don’t have addresses on file were released from prison before SORB was established nearly two decades ago.

He said another part of the problem is a recent Supreme Judicial Court ruling, which allows sex offenders to appeal their level in the registry, which leaves them unclassified in the system while the appeal is pending.

Bennett told the I-Team the numbers also aren’t as bad as they look. He said 270 of the 936 unclassified sex offenders no longer live in Massachusetts, 190 are dead, and another 58 no longer need to register, after their “obligations were terminated as a matter of law.” Those are numbers that SORB employees had failed to update in the system.

It also means there are still 418 sex offenders who have skirted the system, essentially living as ordinary citizens in Massachusetts.

Bennett denied this being a failure on SORB’s part. He told the I-Team, it’s a failure on the sex offenders themselves, who are legally required to register their address with police every year.

Nearly 2000 sex offenders in Massachusetts aren’t registered

Bennett told the I-Team since SORB is not an investigative agency, it's not their responsibility to find them. “That’s not under the statute of what SORB is supposed to be doing. What SORB's supposed to be doing is having the hearings, presenting legal arguments in front of Superior Court judges, and keeping the records. They're job is not to investigate these crimes.”

Bennett said that’s the responsibility of law enforcement.

The 22News I-Team got in a cruiser with Chicopee Police Officer Mike Wilk to see how they make sure sex offenders are where they say they are.

We went to a Level 3 sex offender's house who had recently changed his address. His information checked out.

Wilk said if a sex offender lies about their address, or fails to register, they’re put in violation. Once that happens, police put a warrant out for their arrest. However, if they don’t have a run in with police, and SORB isn’t trying to get their address from other state agencies, sex offenders in violation could continue to live under the radar.

Auditor Bump told the I-Team, that’s why SORB is supposed to utilize information from other state agencies to help police find sex offenders who are in violation, something that Bennett said, SORB has started to do.

Bennett said the agency is making changes to fix the problem. He said SORB intends to change its Registry database, to make it easier for law enforcement to find sex offenders who have been placed in violation. Right now, law enforcement can only access the last home or work address they reported to police; Bennett wants to expand that to include all former addresses, as well.

Bennett told the I-Team there are only about 50 people working for SORB, compared to more than 21,000 convicted sex offenders. Despite those numbers, he said there have been improvements. Since the audit, police have found 400 of the nearly 1,800 sex offenders who fell off the grid.

To find out where you live near a registered sex offender, click here.

Levels of Sex Offenders

Level 1:
Have a low risk of re-offending, and pose a low degree of danger to the public. The public cannot access information about Level 1 sex offenders. Their information is only provided to police departments, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Correction, Department of Youth Services, Department of Children and Families, Massachusetts Parole Board, Department of Probation, and Department of Mental Health.

Level 2:
Have a moderate risk of re-offending and pose a moderate degree of danger to the public. The public can access information about Level 2 offenders who were classified after July 12, 2013. This information is available through local police departments and through the online registry.

Level 3:
Have a high risk of re-offending and pose a high degree of danger to the public. Information about Level 3 sex offenders is publicly available. You can get this information through local police departments, and through the online registry.

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