Sex Offender Community Notification
In 1994 the sexual assault and brutal murder of seven year old Megan Kanka by her neighbor, a recently released sex offender, ignited a national campaign to enact laws requiring communities to be informed about convicted sex offenders living in their neighborhoods. This effort resulted in the federal community notification statute labeled "Megan's Law".
On June 1, 1996 Arizona adopted its version of "Megan's Law" by enacting the Sex Offender Community Notification statutes. While records indicate that Arizona had laws regarding sex offender registration as early as 1939, never before has so much emphasis been focused on the sex offender population.
The community notification process in Arizona is triggered by a sex offender's release from jail/prison or sentence to probation. When this occurs, the respective county adult probation agency or Arizona Department of Corrections (DOC) is required to enter information about the offender into a statewide accessible database. One portion of this information involves the sex offender risk assessment.
The risk assessment is a screening tool designed to provide criminal justice practitioners with the ability to predict a sex offender's risk of recidivism. The Arizona risk assessment evaluates nineteen different criteria that have been identified by treatment experts as good predictors of future behavior. Each criterion is evaluated and assigned a point value, which ultimately is totaled for recommending an appropriate community notification level of 1, 2, or 3. Although probation agencies and DOC provide law enforcement agencies with a recommended community notification level, the local law enforcement agency may choose to complete its own risk assessment to ensure accuracy.
Once the appropriate community notification level is established, the local law enforcement agency is required to complete a community notification in accordance with Arizona Revised Statute 13-3825. Law enforcement has complete discretion regarding community notification for Level 1 offenders, however, state law requires mandatory community notification on all offenders assessed as a Level 2 or Level 3, risk level information. This includes notification to the "surrounding neighborhood, area schools, appropriate community groups and prospective employers. The notification shall include a flyer with a photograph and exact address of the offender as well as a summary of the offender's status and criminal background. A press release and a level two or three flyer shall be given to the local electronic and print media to enable information to be placed in a local publication."
Successful community notification is dependent upon three factors: communication, education, and a zero tolerance approach to harassment or vigilantism. Often the public does not understand how or why a sex offender is moving into their neighborhood. As such, it is the responsibility of all appropriate criminal justice agencies to engage in a collaborative effort to provide accurate and meaningful information to the public. To facilitate this exchange of information, many law enforcement agencies conduct public meetings and attend "Block Watch" meetings to answer questions and relieve fears. Finally, a zero tolerance approach regarding harassment and vigilantism reinforces the true meaning of community notification: to empower the public with knowledge that can be used to protect themselves and their families from becoming victims.