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Sex offenders moving to Minnesota avoid public scrutiny
There's a loophole in Minnesota law that may be protecting dangerous sex offenders. When they move to Minnesota from other states, the public doesn't know. Sex offenders from other states are treated differently than those who serve time in Minnesota prisons. A legislator who helped write Minnesota's sex offender notification law says the problem needs to be fixed.

Moorhead, Minn. — When someone serves time in a Minnesota prison for a sex crime, their case is reviewed and they are assigned a risk level. The most dangerous are called "level three offenders." Those are the only people for whom police can do public notification. Hundreds of community notification meetings have been held across the state since the sex offender community notification law went into effect.

But convicted sex offenders from other states don't get the same kind of attention when they move to Minnesota. That's a concern for Moorhead Police Department Investigative Unit Commander Bob Larson.

"What worries me is we would have a level three offender from another state who is not on probation and parole. He can move into Minnesota and he's now a non level offender," says Larson.

Someone classified as a non-level offender does not have their case reviewed to see if they should be assigned a risk level, and if an offender isn't assigned a risk level, police can't notify the public. Police say there are cases of people considered a high risk sex offender in another state living anonymously in Minnesota. They follow the law and register with local police, but because they don't have a risk level, there's no public notification.

"What I would advocate is if somebody is a level three offender in another state, they're a level three offender in Minnesota," says Bob Larson. "I don't see Minnesota should be a haven for people who are considered high risk offenders in another state moving in and not getting assigned a risk level."

That view is shared by Minneapolis Sex Offender Notification Coordinator John Hinchliff, who says many sex offenders will look for ways to avoid public scrutiny.

"They don't want to be known out there for what they've previously done and been convicted of in the way of criminal activity involving adults or minors or the violation of young children. They kind of want that to go away," says Hinchliff.

The Department of Public Safety and The Department of Corrections are responsible for registering and monitoring sex offenders in Minnesota. Officials with those agencies say they don't know how many sex offenders relocate to the state. Minneapolis Sex Offender Notification Coordinator John Hinchliff thinks it may be two or three hundred, but he says that's only a guess.

A search of the sex offender web sites maintained by other states shows it's not uncommon for offenders to move to Minnesota.

"I don't see Minnesota should be a haven for people who are considered high risk offenders in another state moving in and not getting assigned a risk level."
- Moorhead Police Investigator Bob Larson

For example, Cook County Illinois lists 18 convicted offenders with a Minneapolis address, and two more with a Duluth address. North Dakota also lists offenders who live in Minnesota.

John Hinchliff can point to cases where he says other states essentially dumped convicted offenders on Minnesota. He says courts dismissed probation so the offender would be free to move to Minnesota.

Under the rules of a multi-state compact, Minnesota can turn away offenders who are on probation in another state. But there's no restriction on those who are not under court supervision.

State Sen. Wes Skoglund (DFL-Minneapolis), who helped write Minnesota's sex offender notification law in 1996, was surprised to learn offenders who move to Minnesota can avoid public scrutiny.

"I wish I had seen this flaw before. But now that we know about it we're certainly going to do something about it," says Skoglund.

Skoglund says all sex offenders moving to Minnesota should get the same review given people who are released from a state prison. Every state has a different way of assigning risk levels to sex offenders, but Skoglund says Minnesota needs to review that information and assign a risk.

"I don't think it's going to be that hard to translate that information, but we need somebody in the Department of Corrections who will say okay, this is Idaho, here's Idaho's system here, they have a one through four or one through ten,or however they evaluate them in Idaho; and then say in our state that person would be a level three, a level two or a level one," says Skoglund.

Some state officials say reviewing more sex offender cases will require more time and money. But no one is sure just how much. That's because right now state officials aren't sure how many sex offenders have relocated to Minnesota.

Sen. Skoglund says he is researching laws in other states, looking for ways to close the loophole that may allow dangerous sex offenders to live anonymously in Minnesota.

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