Thanks to nearly $1 million in federal grant money and tremendous cooperation among state, federal and local law enforcement officers, two Idaho Sex Offender Watch Task Forces – one in northern Idaho and one in southern Idaho – have made great strides in ensuring compliance with sex offender registration laws. More importantly, the Task Forces have taken significant steps to protect Idaho’s children from sexual predators, shielding them from lifelong injury. The United States Attorney’s Office is proud to be part of Idaho Sex Offender Watch Task Forces’ executive board and a strong supporter of their efforts.
The original Idaho Sex Offender Watch Task Force, funded in the fall of 2010 through a grant obtained by Canyon County, prosecuted more than 30 sex offenders on state and federal charges in 2011. The charges included failure to register, internet enticement and possession of child pornography. Three more have pleaded guilty in federal court in 2012. The Idaho Sex Offender Watch Task Force investigator, in coordination with other law enforcement officers in Ada, Bannock and Canyon counties conducted more than 500 compliance checks to ensure that known sex offenders were in fact living at the addresses they provided to law enforcement in the registration process.
In its first four months of operation, the northern Idaho Sex Offender Watch Task Force brought 14 sex offenders into compliance through state or federal prosecution or enforcement checks. The north Idaho Sex Offender Watch Task Force serves Idaho’s five most northern counties – Kootenai, Bonner, Shoshone, Benewah and Boundary.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), 3,654 registered sex offenders live in Idaho. Just over 40% of Idaho’s registered sex offenders live in Ada, Bannock and Canyon counties. Just over 500 live in the counties covered by the northern task force. The two Idaho Sex Offender Watch Task Forces help ensure that these sex offenders meet their legal obligation under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), passed by Congress in 2006, to register and keep their registration current in each jurisdiction where they reside, are employed or are students. Enforcement of sex offender registration is critical to public safety. It limits the chance that a registrant will reoffend and reminds sex offenders that law enforcement will be checking in on them.
In addition to prosecuting SORNA violations and conducting compliance checks, the Idaho Sex Offender Watch Task Forces train law enforcement throughout Idaho to investigate child sexual exploitation crimes. This month, at the Coeur d’Alene Resort Casino on the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation in Worley, Idaho, both Idaho Sex Offender Watch Task Forces will sponsor the second annual sex offender watch conference. It features nationally known crimes against children expert Dr. Anna Salter, the NCMEC director of training, Idaho Crimes Against Children Commander Jim Kouril and Jim Peters, an AUSA in my office who is a nationally recognized expert in prosecuting sex crimes against children. We are pleased to be holding the conference at a tribal facility. Federally recognized tribes in Idaho also have SORNA compliance obligations. Last July, the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho became one of the first in the nation to successfully implement the sex offender registry requirements.
Last year, more than 200 law enforcement officers, probation officers and prosecutors attended the inaugural Idaho Sex Offender Watch Task Force sponsored training conference. A short time later, several Nampa Police Department officers who had attended the training solved a child sexual enticement crime in which a young Nampa man enticed a 12-year-old girl from out of state to travel to Idaho. The officers’ Idaho Sex Offender Watch training assisted them in the case.
The Idaho Sex Offender Watch Task Forces are also involved in community outreach. They promote child safety through a variety of public events, including the “Take 25" program in Bannock County where Idaho Sex Offender Watch Task Force officers and NCMEC fingerprinted more than 700 children and provided their parents and guardians with care packages describing methods to keep children safe. At Eagle Fun Days, U.S. Marshals Service representatives and other Idaho Sex Offender Watch task force members provided more than 200 families with identification kits, consisting of their child’s photographs, fingerprints and identifying information. Idaho Sex Offender Watch also funded overtime for a “Lights Out” event on Halloween to ensure that sex offenders on probation complied with the requirement that they not give out candy.
Canyon County Prosecuting Attorney Bryan Taylor and Kootenai County Prosecuting Attorney Barry McHugh have been the driving forces for the Idaho Sex Offender Watch Task Forces in their parts of the state. U.S. Marshal Brian Underwood, whose agency is charged with investigating federal SORNA violations, has provided critical federal guidance. The special prosecutors and investigators employed by both task forces have demonstrated their ability to bring non-compliant sex offenders to justice in state and federal court. Idaho families and Idaho children are the beneficiaries. We will continue to support and participate in this important work.
Wendy J. Olson
Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) is a collaborative effort by federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and communities to prevent and deter gun violence.