A state board overseeing California's sex offender registration laws wants to overhaul the registry because they claim it has grown too big and does not help law enforcement or the public differentiate between offenders who pose significant risks and those not likely to reoffend.
The California Sex Offender Management Board is recommending to the Legislature that only high-risk offenders, such as kidnappers and sexually violent predators, should be required to register for life, The San Francisco Chronicle reported Sunday. Others could be removed from the registry 10 to 20 years after the offense.
A list of almost 100,000 sex offenders is unwieldy, the board said. California is one of four states that require lifetime registration for sex offenders, regardless of the nature of the offense.
The result, according to a board report last month, is that California's registry has many offenders "who do not necessarily pose a risk to the community," including nearly 900 whose last sex crime was more than 55 years ago.
Some law enforcement officials and lawmakers support the recommendations, but acknowledge that public opinion is not on their side.
"People are very concerned about this. I'm open and willing to be educated on the issue, but I'm not saying now I'm leaning toward it," said Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore (Riverside County), who has talked to constituents about similar proposals in the past.
Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, a San Francisco Democrat who is chairman of the Assembly's public safety committee, has previously tried to change registry requirements, said, it's "a radioactive issue" to a lot of people.
California created the registry in 1947 as a tracking tool for law enforcement. Today, the registry is also used for Megan's Law, which allows local law enforcement to notify the public about sex offenders who pose a risk and offers the public a searchable website of most registered sex offenders in their neighborhoods.
About 95 percent of solved sex crimes are committed by persons not on the registry.
Many specific aspects of the board's proposal, including the level of review and oversight, are still being debated, said Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley, chairwoman of the state Sex Offender Management Board.
"What we are proposing won't jeopardize public safety or unleash sex offenders who are dangerous in the community," O'Malley said. "If done correctly and if done in a way that isn't so broad that no one is held accountable, then the public doesn't have to fear about their safety or their children's safety."