"What about the sex offenders?" the prosecutor asked, rhetorically
What about them, indeed.
Stories like this one out of Utah are far less infuriating for me, or at least infuriating in a different sense, than the one that I wrote about that kicked off this newsletter business. Perhaps just merely aggravating.
The story was about a police operation to check on the compliance of those with past sex offense convictions, and found — the the chyron above indicates — that 20% were non-compliant.
Assistant United States Attorney John Huber (pictured), gave the noted that operations such as these
[S]hows the importance of law enforcement amid outcry from community activists demanding police reform.
“This type of operation shows how ridiculous the demands are to defund the police, to defund law enforcement. Who will protect our children?” Huber said.
It’s a fair question: we do, after all, want the police to protect our families and solve crimes like murder and rape. Notably, the Salt Lake City Police Department who, according to ProPublica, cleared just 3% of rape cases opened in 2016.
Much easier than solving crime is knocking on the doors of people who have exited the criminal system and served their sentence to ensure that all of their paperwork is in order and — if not — charge them with crimes. Things like not registering a vehicle properly with the state, or failing to follow strict and complicated time requirements after a move, or not registering an e-mail address. If you’ve ever neglected to updated a driver’s license after a move, it’s like that — except a felony. In some jurisdictions, so-called “failure to register” or “failure to comply” offenses are the most common reason that people on the registry are sent back to prison.
Importantly, though, research has generally found that they’re not associated with an increase in sexual recidivism. In a conversation I had with people smarter than me, one of them made the point that if someone’s taxes are late, does that mean that they’re more likely to commit a crime?
These cases of non-compliance are what I’ve referred to in the past as administrative “crimes” that are so hyper-technical and ensure that people stay trapped in the system that are utterly untethered from any public safety purpose.
But, these cases are easy make-work that allow police departments to flex like they take sexual violence very seriously even if they may not take it very seriously at all, cf. SLPD’s rape clearance rates. So it’s good optics, but bad policing. We’re diverting resources away from preventing sexual harm and into a system of punishing people who have already been held accountable for some crime.
Also, and not for nothing, but second most-common complaint about police officers is sexual misconduct.
I think it’s important to take sexual harm seriously, and to focus on policy that makes accountability and prevention work. It’s just that we’re knocking on the wrong doors.