How difficult is it to keep tabs on homeless sex offenders in western Massachusetts?

Level 3 sex offenders could be living anywhere, at any time

GREENFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) - Anyone can go online to find out whether a sex offender lives in their neighborhood, but what about those who live in homeless shelters, on the street, or in tents?

There are more than 40 homeless sex offenders living in Springfield, Chicopee, Westfield, Holyoke, Northampton, and Greenfield.

  • Springfield – 24
  • Chicopee – 1
  • Westfield – 3
  • Holyoke – 7
  • Northampton – 4
  • Greenfield - 8

State law requires homeless sex offenders to register their location with the police every 30-days, but Greenfield Police Chief Robert Haigh told the 22News I-Team they can still be extremely difficult to keep tabs on; “We can't go out and track them every day.”

The I-Team went to the Friends of the Homeless in Springfield, where 10 of the city’s 25 homeless sex offenders have registered their address on the Sex Offender Registry Board.

Friends of the Homeless Executive Director Bill Miller told the I-Team homeless Level 3 sex offenders do not have to notify shelters when they stay there, but they are required to tell the police. The police conduct audits periodically to confirm their address, then send that information to the Sex Offender Registry Board. The system may seem foolproof, but the I-Team discovered it has its flaws.

The I-Team gave Miller a list of the 10 sex offenders who are registered as living at the Friends of the Homeless; there was one name he didn’t recognize. After cross-checking the information with their records, Miller told the I-Team that person hasn’t lived there in over 5-years. “We don’t want somebody to use this is an address, and then they’re staying somewhere else. That just compounds the problem,” he said.

Since a homeless sex offender’s location was inaccurately listed on the Sex Offender Registry Board in Springfield, the I-Team wanted to find out whether this could also be happening in other cities in western Massachusetts. The I-Team went to Greenfield, and followed a group of detectives around while they audited homeless sex offenders.

Detective Megan Gilbert and Detective Sgt. Daniel McCarthy are two of the detectives in Greenfield in charge of keeping track of the city's homeless sex offenders. The I-Team followed the detectives to the Salvation Army, where their audit began. They confirmed the registration information of one of the city’s homeless Level 3 sex offenders, including his permanent address. Since his current information matched their records, the audit only took about 10 minutes.

The next stop was a wooded area next to a shopping plaza. This time, the detectives were searching for another homeless sex offender who had a warrant out for his arrest. He was put in violation by Athol Police for failing to register a secondary address. Sex offenders are required to register a secondary address for any location they stay at for a period of 14-days or longer.

The last time they saw the sex offender they were looking for, he was living in a tent in the woods. The I-Team watched the detectives search the woods for about 20-minutes. They found the tent, but didn’t find the man they were looking for.

Sgt. McCarthy told the I-Team, if they can’t find a sex offender who has been put in violation, notify their patrol units to be on the lookout.

Sex offenders who are put in violation will face penalties, including a minimum of 6-months, and a maximum of 2 ½ years in jail, and/or a $1,000 fine. If the person has been put in violation before, they could face a minimum of 5-years in prison.

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