MOORHEAD-Tory Jacobson was a detective sergeant with the Moorhead Police Department in 2003 when he came up with an idea about how to keep better track of registered sex offenders.
The law at the time required people convicted of certain crimes to keep law enforcement agencies informed of their whereabouts. The burden was and still remains on the offender to remain compliant, or face possible incarceration.
The problem: Noncompliance wasn't always immediately apparent, leading in some cases to a lag time between when an offender stopped following the rules and when law enforcement became aware of it.
Jacobson's idea was to have officers make random checks to make sure offenders complied with registration requirements.
Shortly after the Moorhead Police Department implemented the program, about a dozen offenders were returned to prison for noncompliance with registration rules, said Jacobson, who is now a lieutenant with the department.
And the program that was started in 2003 as a way to monitor registered offenders continues today, with Moorhead officers now making periodic checks on about 145 registered offenders living in the city.
"We have a responsibility to do our duty with them. The community expects that," Jacobson said, adding that after Moorhead set up its monitoring program, other communities across Minnesota and elsewhere followed suit.
"The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension now has a predatory offender division and they recommend these quarterly compliance checks," said Jacobson, who added he could not recall a case of a registered offender committing a crime against someone in the neighborhood where they live.
Fargo is one of the communities that conducts spot checks on offenders similar to the way things are done in Moorhead.
Official data isn't kept on recidivism by registered offenders within Fargo, but monitoring of offenders appears to be effective in preventing new crimes, particularly when it comes to neighborhoods where offenders live, according to Lt. Jason Nelson, a 14-year veteran of the Fargo Police Department.
Nelson said registered offenders committing crimes in areas where they live is all but unheard of.
"I can't think of an instance of that and I think part of the reason for that is here in Fargo and Moorhead and West Fargo we do keep tabs on moderate- and high-risk offenders," Nelson said.
He said monitoring involves not only knocking on the doors of registered offenders, but also visiting with neighbors and others to get an indication of whether trouble is brewing.
"We'll track the vehicles they're driving; we check in with employers to make sure they're working, things like that," Nelson said, adding that officers are assigned specific individuals to keep tabs on.
"There's buy-in from the officers to make sure the people they're responsible for are doing what they're supposed to be doing," Nelson said.
If one of the approximately 208 registered offenders living in Fargo is found to have violated rules, Nelson said a report is sent to prosecutors and an arrest warrant is issued for failure to register.
Neighborhood risk small
Of the registered offenders living in Moorhead, eight are categorized as Level III offenders, or those deemed the most likely to commit another crime.
With many registered offenders, police are not allowed to divulge where they live.
With Level III offenders, however, police can tell the community about the offender and where they live.
Public notifications were met with alarm when they first began happening in Moorhead, but that has largely subsided, Jacobson said, although the Police Department still sometimes receives calls from people curious about whether an offender is living in a specific area.
While he understands the concern, Jacobson said known offenders may not pose as large of a risk some people think they do.
He cited a 2007 state Department of Corrections study that found 90 percent of sex offenders had no record of a crime requiring registration before they committed a sexual offense.
The study also found that in 90 percent of sexual assault cases, some type of relationship existed between the offender and the victim.
In the 10 percent of cases where the victim and offender did not know each other, the study found that the offender's place of residence had no bearing on the crime, Jacobson said.
He said if people, particularly parents, pay too much attention to where a registered sex offender is living, they may not pay attention other ways of keeping people safe, such as learning about and watching for the warning signs that someone is being victimized.
"The concern is complacency," Jacobson said.
City records show that about 20 offenders living in Moorhead have been charged with not being in compliance with registration rules since 2007.
Over that same period, Jacobson said records indicate that just one registered sex offender in Moorhead was convicted of committing another sex offense.
In that case, Bradley Steven Hines pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and one count of failing to register as a predatory offender in connection with an incident last year near Sabin involving a girl younger than 13.
Hines, who knew the victim, was sentenced earlier this year in Clay County District Court to 15 years in prison.
In 2014, the Moorhead City Council wrestled with the question of whether to impose residency restrictions on convicted offenders. Council members ended up voting 5-3 against banning sex offenders from living within a certain distance from day cares, and other places where children gather. Four years earlier, Fargo also rejected proposed residency restrictions on sex offenders.
Jacobson acknowledged the public has concerns about convicted offenders, but he said efforts to restrict residency options for offenders are not effective at keeping the public safe and may actually work against offenders who comply with registration rules.
Three of the 145 registered offenders living in Moorhead have no permanent address.
While those offenders must check in with Moorhead police every week to let authorities know their general whereabouts, Jacobson said the homelessness factor is generally a barrier to offenders remaining compliant with registration laws.
"That runs contrary to the data that says when they (offenders) are closely monitored, they are more likely to remain compliant," Jacobson said.