Law enforcement struggles to track homeless people on sex offender registry

70 offenders listed as ‘noncompliant’ on state registry

New Hampshire’s sex offender registry is meant to offer peace of mind for the public to know where offenders are in the community. But News 9 Investigates has found law enforcement in the Granite State has its hands full tracking down sex offenders, including some who don’t have an official address.

For the last two years, officers Eric Desmarais and Warren Tanner have headed Manchester’s sex offender registration unit.

“Currently, Manchester has 526 registered sex offenders, and that can vary from day to day,” Desmarais said.

Each offender goes through multiple compliance checks per year. Manchester police conducted more than 2,400 check-ins in 2018.

“We have a glass partition here so that people can enter from the public side of the police department,” Desmarais said.

But many are coming right off the street. News 9 learned from the New Hampshire Department of Safety’s website that 70 offenders are listed as homeless.

“This is a database that we keep. It’s a basic Excel spreadsheet,” Tanner said.

Police said there are more offenders without permanent addresses who aren’t listed on the publicly available website because the extent of their crime is not severe enough.

“I’d say the highest concentration is in the downtown area, but I had a gentleman come in and register and state that he lives in the woods out at Lake Massabesic,” Tanner said.

Under state law, there are no restrictions on where sex offenders can live. Near schools, day care facilities, public parks, under bridges or on the street are all possibilities.

Forty-five of the homeless offenders on the statewide public registry were convicted of felonious sexual assault on juveniles.

“I think the desire to register and track sex offenders comes from fear,” said attorney Robin Melone, of the law firm Wadleigh, Starr & Peters PLLC.

Melone has been involved in cases in which laws have been used to try to restrict where offenders can live. She said heavy regulations make the pool of available housing so small that it can drive offenders underground, making them more difficult to track.

“I think when we extend that punishment into the community, in a way, that makes it difficult for them to re-integrate into society,” Melone said. “It makes it more difficult and less safe and makes it more likely they will re-offend.”

But even now, not everyone follows the rules. There are currently more than 70 offenders who are listed as “noncompliant” on the state registry.

“When someone fails to register, and a warrant is issued for failing to register as a sex offender, chasing them can be a little time-consuming,” said Laconia Police Chief Matt Canfield.

In Laconia, there is one officer assigned to more than 70 cases.

“Certainly, if we had more time or availability, we’d go out and do spot checks and just surprise visits or phone calls and verify the addresses in between the registrations,” Canfield said.

Officers said that once warrants are issued for an arrest, it becomes more dangerous.

“Sometimes, you have scenarios where an offender is living with friends or family that don’t even know they’re offenders, and they try to keep that quiet as well,” Tanner said. “So, it can get touchy at times.”

“If there’s someone that’s supposed to be registering, that will catch up to them,” Desmarais said.

Melone said law enforcement and victim advocates are on the same page when it comes to New Hampshire’s living restrictions, and it’s been proven in the State House: the last time a regulation bill was proposed, legislators voted against it.

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