Members of the Elgin Police Department have asked local state officials to craft legislation that would supersede a court decision they say makes it more difficult to enforce the Sex Offender Registration Act.
Officers from the department's resident officer program and crime-free housing unit are in charge of keeping track of Elgin's approximately 120 registered sex offenders, Elgin police Lt. Frank Trost said.
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Sex offenders must notify the local enforcement agency of their residence within three days of moving. Most have to do that for 10 years; sexual predators must register for life. Failing to register once is a Class 3 felony, and a Class 2 felony thereafter, Trost said.
However, the August 2013 ruling by the Second District Illinois Appellate Court regarding a case in Aurora means that police, in addition to having to prove sex offenders are not living at their registered address, have to prove they have been living elsewhere for more than five days, Trost said.
Consequently, Trost said, police now have to allocate extra time and resources -- through surveillance and record-checking -- to prove residence at the unregistered address, which is especially burdensome if the sex offenders moved out of town, Trost said.
"It's a small percentage (of sex offenders) that try to go off the record, but I can think of three within the last six months that were directly affected by that ruling," he said. "The hours involved can be pretty intensive."
One case involving a sex offender who was living in Aurora without registering there required about 25 hours of work over three weeks, officer Robert Engelke said.
Trost, Engelke and other officers met with state Rep. Anna Moeller and state Sen. Michael Noland in late June to push for new legislation.
Moeller and Noland said they'll be looking into the issue.
"From my initial conversation with police, it does sound like it is a burden and it takes a lot of time and resources for the police departments to track these registered sex offenders down," Moeller said.
"I'm going to be looking into how we can fix that, if possible with legislation, but I need to do more research first to understand where in the statutes we need to fix that," she said.
Noland said he will be doing research in the next couple of weeks.
"The fact that police have to prove this individual is at a specific address, I think may be a little too burdensome for the police, and not fair to the public, because we have to ensure their safety," he said.
He also noted the appellate court opinion was delivered by Judge Joe Birkett, the former DuPage County state's attorney.
In Elgin, the police department conducts at-home checks of sex offenders twice a year, even though state law requires it only once a year, Trost said.
Sometimes, it's hard to say whether someone truly lives where they say they do, officer Shelley Mendiola said.
For example, one sex offender's home had only a mattress on the floor and no stove, although there was a working bathroom, she said. In that case, the only way to be certain is to set up surveillance, she said. Police also can get clues about sex offenders' whereabouts via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, officer Rob Hartman said. Illinois bars registered sex offenders from using social networking sites.
Elgin's major investigations division used to be in charge of the sex offender program until spring 2013, when it was assigned to ROPE and crime-free housing officers, who have closer ties with the community, Trost said.
"(Sex offenders) are human like we are, so you want to create a rapport with them," Engelke said.
The Illinois State Police has a searchable database of registered sex offenders at isp.state.il.us/sor/.