“Routine compliance checks” are anything but

By Michael McKay . . . What would you do if you answered a knock at your door and were greeted by eight police officers and a television camera crew at your front doorstep?  Chances are, it’s not an occurrence that you would characterize as “routine,” even less so if you happen to be someone who is listed on a sexual offense registry.

It’s the sort of thing that happens on a regular basis every day, in practically every county and state in the country. This week, it’s happening to the 88 registrants and their families living in Mayes County, Oklahoma and being reported on in the local news media.

Imagine being a registrant who opens his front door to a large gaggle of police officers and TV cameras.

Imagine being the innocent parent, spouse, or child of a registrant who finds himself in those circumstances.

Imagine trying to explain to your six-year old child why something like this is happening.

The palpable fear of being arrested for a small, unintentional infraction is ever-present. The mere thought that a clerical error or misunderstanding could turn your life upside-down is terrifying. Seeing the fear and concern in your family members’ faces is heartbreaking. Unfortunately, these are not the unintended consequences of harsh registry enforcement. They are premeditated and intentional, designed to keep registrants and their families in a perpetual state of fear. As software coders are known to say, “It’s a feature, not a bug.”

How many actual crimes could be solved, how many actual taxpayer dollars could be saved, if the same sort of herculean effort was made to tackle the backlog of criminal cases that remain unresolved?  Sending a posse of deputies all over the county fishing for technical violations that may or may not be happening is a quest in search of low-hanging fruit and positive media attention.

It’s all about the “optics,” and that is s a temptation that is difficult for local law enforcement agencies to resist. It creates the illusion of progress and efficacy, diverts attention from their internal problems, and, let’s face it – it’s just more fun to go looking for new crimes instead of solving the ones you already know about.

Major Rod Howell, Mayes County Sheriff’s Office told Oklahoma’s NewsOn6, “Some of them change their address and forget and obviously, that’s a violation.” He goes on to say that “surprisingly few” of the registrants visited were in violation of any laws.

Forgetting to update one’s address may indeed be a technical violation of the law, but the Mayes County Sheriff Department’s unwarranted intimidation tactics against registrants and their family members are an obvious violation of common sense and constitutional rights.

Sandy Rozek

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Sandy, a NARSOL board member, is communications director for NARSOL, editor-in-chief of the Digest, and a writer for the Digest and the NARSOL website. Additionally, she participates in updating and managing the website and assisting with a variety of organizational tasks.