Angela Brandt Havre Daily News email@example.com
A bright-pink piece of paper dangling from a Havreite’s door knob might be mistaken for an advertisement for a local pizza joint. But, upon further inspection, it will be found to be something much more serious than $2 off your next supper. The Havre Police Department began blanketing the city with notes to violent and sex offenders in order to make sure address databases are up to date. When Lt. Russ Ostwalt visits an offender’s residence and gets no answer, an inconspicuous white note with the department’s number, 265-4361, and hours of operation, 7:30 a. m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, is left. If the offender neglects to contact the department within a week or so, a neon pink notice will be hung from the knob. “This way they can’t say that they didn’t see it,” Ostwalt said of the chosen hue. He travels door-to-door contacting the city’s about 35 to 40 violent and sexual offenders. The numbers can vary daily with perpetrators returning to jail or moving in and out of the jurisdiction, Ostwalt said. Ways of verifying the offender’s residence include talking to the perpetrator directly, speaking with a spouse or calling their landlord, he said. “It’s good that the city knows we’re checking on the people and also so the people we’re checking on know too,” Ostwalt said about the notices. “It’s nice to have nosy neighbors every once and awhile,” he added. The efforts will help keep the statewide registry current. The Montana Department of Justice Sexual and Violent Offender Registry, which is available on the Internet at http://www.doj.mt.gov/ svor/, lists the number of violent perpetrators in Havre as 36 along with 14 sex offenders and two charged with both sexual and violent offenses. Ostwalt said the city’s population of sex and violent criminals in Havre is actually lower because the Department of Justice counts those in the Hill County Detention Center, which is out of Havre limits. Users of the Web site can access information on offenders in their city and county as well as look registrants up individually by name. The site displays alternate names of those registered, their last known address and their offenses. When an offender fails to respond to two attempted contacts, the Havre department will request an arrest warrant from the Hill County Attorney’s Office. Ostwalt said he has not had to display any pink hangers so far. “I’ve gotten four phone calls today,” he said Wednesday about the good response he has gotten from the notices. A sexual or violent offender who knowingly fails to register, verify registration or keep information current, may according to state law, be sentenced to prison for no more than five years or may be fined not more than $10,000, or both. In 1995, the Montana Legislature required certain violent offenders to register in addition to sexual offenders. These violent charges include arson, aggravated assault and deliberate homicide.
Sexual offenses perpetrated by those on the state registry are aggravated kidnapping, incest and sexual abuse of children. According to the Sexual and Violent Offender Registry, Hill County houses 25 violent offenders, 55 sex offenders and three charged with both sexual and violent offenses. Blaine County holds a total of 35 sexual and violent perpetrators. Phillips County is home to eight violent and six sex offenders and Liberty County has one offender charged with both violent and sexual crimes. Both sex and violent offenders must inform the local police department with which they were last registered of a relocation within 10 days of their move. If they don’t comply an arrest warrant may be issued. Ostwalt said extradition of Havre perpetrators picked up out of the state will be dealt with on a case-bycase basis. In addition to Havre’s efforts, the state’s Sexual and Violent Offender Registration Unit mails address verification letters to all offenders on an annual basis. Registrants prove their current addresses by signing and dating the verification letter and then having it notarized. Level 3 sexual offenders, who according to the Montana Department of Justice Web site are listed as a high risk of a repeated sexual offense with a threat to public safety and is marked as a sexually violent predator, are sent verification correspondence every 90 days. According to state law, before a sexual offender is sentenced, either the state Department of Corrections or a sexual offender evaluator provides a report recommending the level of designation ranging from Level 1 to 3. The judge then takes statements from various people including victims and offenders. With the given information, the judge issues a decision. A Level 1 sexual offender poses a low risk of repeated sex crime and a Level 2 offender is evaluated as a moderate risk of a repeat sexual offense. However, it is possible for offenders to not have a tier level or other designation. Offenders not designated with a level may not be for several reasons, including if they were incarcerated prior to 1997 or the sentencing judge did not assign a level. No levels exist for violent offenders. A judge also may impose regulations on a registrant’s residence if the offender was convicted of a sexual crime against a minor in addition to being designated a Level 3 perpetrator. According to the Department of Justice site, “Although the Montana Department of Justice maintains the Registry, it has no legal authority to direct where a sexual or violent offender may or may not live. Unless courtordered restrictions exist, these offenders are constitutionally free to live wherever they choose.” Sexual offenders are required to register with their local police department for life. Violent offenders are required to register for 10 years from their conviction date or from their prisonrelease date. If they are convicted of a felony offense during that time, they are then required to register for life, in accordance with Montana law. Ostwalt said if anyone can provide more information on the Havre registrants such as an undocumented relocation, they should contact the police department. The registration sweeps will run throughout the year at various times, he said.