New bill would allow U to disclose sex offenders

by Robert Koch

The University might begin disclosing the names of registered sex offenders attending classes if a new notification bill passes through the U.S. Senate.
The Campus Protection Act would require “registered sexually violent offenders” to notify the state of their enrollment. The state in turn would forward the information to University Police for disclosure.
Roberta Gibbons, assistant director of the University’s Program Against Sexual Violence, said her office neither tracks nor endorses legislation. But she added she and others at the program support the bill.
“Sex offenders generally have a quite high rate of recidivism,” Gibbons said. “People have a right to know whether or not they are in a community where a person that has committed such an act exists.”
Traditionally, federal law has guarded student records. But high-profile cases have pressured schools to follow guidelines used by the larger community.
Assaults prompt laws
Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., introduced the bill last month in response to several assaults committed by an Arizona State University student last July. The school had withheld the student’s identity as a registered sex offender.
“It’s an unattended loophole in the federal law, and we’re simply closing it,” said Tom Puglia, spokesman for the Arizona congressman.
“It’s basically like Megan’s Law for college campuses,” added Puglia, commenting on the proposed bill.
The 1994 rape and murder of 7-year-old Megan Kanka in New Jersey by a twice-convicted child molester prompted passage of Megan’s Law in 1996, requiring states to notify communities about recently released sex offenders.
And the 1986 assault and murder of Lehigh University student Jeanne Clery by a fellow student led to passage of the Campus Security Act in 1990.
Also known as the Clery Act, the law requires public and private colleges and universities receiving federal aid to publish annual reports listing campus crime statistics during a three-year period.
University crime statistics
The University Police Web site posts 150 sexual offenses for the period 1996 to 1998.
Offenses ranging from fondling to rape were reported to police, counselors, residence hall and Program Against Sexual Violence staff members and third parties. A significant portion of the reported assaults occurred off campus.
Passage of the Campus Protection Act might add names to the department’s Web site.
“We leave the dissemination of that information up to the colleges,” Puglia said. “If they want to do a Web site, or if they want to put something in the school paper, or if they want to send something home with registration materials.”
University Police Capt. Steve Johnson said the department Web site would be the easiest way to put the information out but added further consideration would be necessary.
“We would have a discussion with University council on how best we would meet the requirements of the law,” Johnson said.
Registration, risk level and notification
Minnesota law requires registration of “predatory offenders” for a period of 10 years.
Community notification, however, is based on risk level.
Corrections officials, police, psychologists and crime victims’ ombudsmen assign an offender a risk level after reviewing the person’s criminal history, possible chemical dependency and treatment received.
Only level-three offenders — those posing a high risk of repetition — require community notification.
Lt. Bernie Martinson of the Minneapolis Police Sex Crimes Unit estimated there are 30 level-three offenders in Minneapolis.
“Law enforcement has the authority and the right to protect persons,” Martinson said. “To notify people of a risk or a potential risk is prudent.”
The Campus Protection Act, which is actually an amendment to the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, passed through the House of Representatives unanimously and is expected to clear the Senate to become law.
“I think this is pretty consistent with the rest of the Clery Act,” Gibbons said.

Robert Koch covers police and courts and welcomes comments at [email protected].