Home Invasion Spurs More Police Checks For Sex Offenders
By STEVEN GOODE | Courant Staff Writer
April 06, 2008
When Hartford police detectives went to the Open Hearth Wednesday morning, they got permission to confirm the whereabouts of 17 registered sex offenders who listed the Charter Oak Avenue emergency shelter as their residence.
But a half-block away at the Stewart B. McKinney Shelter on Huyshope Avenue, officers were denied entry in their attempt to locate 43 registered sex offenders who listed that facility as their home. The officers resorted to waiting on the sidewalk to interview people as they came and went.
City police say they need more power to enforce the law requiring sex offenders to maintain up-to-date residency registration and to make contact with offenders living in shelters.
But advocates for the homeless say it is an invasion of their clients' right to privacy.
"It's the Constitution of the United States," Carol Walter, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, said Friday. "It's not legal for the police to gain access to a private entity without due process."
Police say increased access to shelters might help avert another tragedy like the one that unfolded in New Britain last weekend, when Leslie Williams, a registered sex offender who listed the McKinney shelter as his address, broke into a home and shot two women, killing one of them, according to authorities.
Hartford police Lt. Mark Tedeschi, commander of the department's juvenile investigative division and sex offender registry unit, said earlier this week that Williams might have been less likely to commit a crime if police had been able to make contact with him in a shelter and let him know they were aware of his location.
"It's a deterrent factor. It certainly wouldn't have hurt," said Tedeschi, who submitted testimony to the legislature in March supporting a proposed amendment to a Senate bill that would grant police increased access to homeless shelters to determine the whereabouts of registered sex offenders.
According to police, there are 56 registered sex offenders listed as living in the city's 10 shelters. There are 502 registered sex offenders — or about 10 percent of the state's total of 5,000 — living in Hartford.
Walter said that city shelters have no interest in harboring dangerous criminals and that, if the law changes to allow police greater access, shelters will abide by it. But she said such a change would send an unfortunate message to homeless people.
"You're communicating to them that they don't have the same rights as anybody else," she said.
Walter also took issue with the assertion that the home invasion and shootings a week ago could have been avoided had police been able to make contact with Williams in the shelter.
"This horrible crime did not happen because he was in a homeless shelter or stayed at the McKinney shelter one night," she said. "It's not productive to start raiding shelters."
For Walter, the larger issue is the Department of Correction's decision to place sex offenders in homeless shelters in the first place, because the shelters cannot provide the level of services and counseling those offenders need as they make their transition back to society.
"They are there to provide respite from the elements. DOC should not be placing people in shelters," she said.
Hartford Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts agreed with Walter, saying shelters should be the last resort after all other efforts to find them a place to live are exhausted.
But he said the lack of oversight is the reason his department needs access to the shelters once the decision has been made to place sex offenders there.
"They can disappear from shelters for days at a time with no accountability," Roberts said. "These guys know that. It's a game."
Roberts said he planned to continue efforts to document the location of sex offenders and make contact with them.
"I'm going to do what I need to do," he said Friday.
For Rebecca Rabinowitz, chief executive officer for the Open Hearth, the job of maintaining client confidentiality while recognizing the need for public safety is not clear cut, and neither was her decision to allow officers to enter the emergency shelter to determine the whereabouts of sex offenders.
"It's always going to be an uneasy balance," Rabinowitz said Friday. "But it's still best to cooperate with the police."
But for Rabinowitz, even cooperation has its limits; she would draw the line at any police effort to conduct general sweeps of the shelter.
"If you come in here on a fishing expedition, you're trampling on the right to confidentiality," she said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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