Foley briefs cops on predator law
By Greg Martin
In the past, communities kept better track of their library books than their child sex predators, U.S. Rep. Mark Foley told a group of Charlotte County Sheriff's officers Wednesday.
But that's going to change now that Congress has passed the Adam Walsh Act, Foley said. The bill amounts to a "major overhaul" of the nation's sex offender registration and public notification laws, he said.
Foley's comments came in a conference with a score of sheriff's officers and media reporters held at the Sheriff's Office Wednesday morning.
Later Wednesday, Foley met with local lawmakers and Punta Gorda and Charlotte County officials to discuss hurricane recovery.
Foley, co-chairman of the Missing and Exploited Children Caucus, said the bill was crafted over three years with input from many experts. Input from John and Reve Walsh, whose son, 6-year-old Adam, was kidnapped from a Hollywood, Fla., mall in 1981, was especially important, Foley said.
The boy's decapitated body was found in a Vero Beach canal 16 days later.
President Bush signed the Adam Walsh Act into law July 27 the 25th anniversary of his murder.
John Walsh started the television show America's Most Wanted in the late 1980s and has been lobbying Congress to prevent such crimes for years, Foley said.
"This was not a knee-jerk reaction to a sensational Florida case," Foley said.
Often, such crimes are committed by convicted felons who have been released after serving their sentences. The recidivism rate for child predators is 90 percent, according to Foley.
Upon release, offenders have been long required to register with local law enforcement agencies. But their movements weren't closely tracked and a number have slipped away.
"Perpetrators were told to check in when you get where you're going,'" Foley said.
Under the act, offenders will be given 72 hours to register after moving to a town after release from prison, Foley said.
The act also established a demonstration program requiring sex offenders to wear tracking devices for the duration of their supervised release.
For many federal crimes, monitoring bracelets have already become mandatory legwear for probationers, Foley said.
Even Martha Stewart, convicted of insider trading, had to wear one, he said.
"It's ironic we put one on Martha Stewart," he said. "I guess it would let us know if one of her cakes fell. But we wanted to make an example of her."
The act also authorizes federal agencies to log the social security numbers and DNA samples of offenders into data banks. That will not only help convict re-offenders but also solve cold cases, Foley said.
The law makes failing to register a federal crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Federal marshals will be assigned to capture sex offenders who violate the registration requirements. The bill authorizes the hiring of 200 more U.S. attorneys to prosecute the cases, Foley said.
The costs of the additional federal enforcement will cost "several hundred million dollars" this year, he said.
Foley alluded to a statewide effort where local police officers "adopt" a registered sex offender for close monitoring. He acknowledged a concern that offenders may feel "harassed" by the program.
"I say it's good police work," Foley said. "Maybe it causes them to think about (reoffending) a little bit. Maybe they'll understand, the ramifications are no longer a slap on the wrist and some counseling."
Sheriff John Davenport said the legislation "helps."
"We don't know what the exact answer is," Davenport said. "But anything Congress does to help local agencies address the problem is welcome."