Column by U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman & U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier
Most Americans would find it chilling if a convicted sex offender were dropped into their neighborhood without warning, free to pick new victims at will. But apparently — according to a recent report — that’s exactly what the United States military has allowed to happen in our communities.
In Arizona, the Marines released a chief warrant officer who was convicted and served time for making his 12-year-old babysitters wear his wife’s high heels and walk on his partially nude body, then rub their feet against his genitals. He was never flagged as a sex offender because he pleaded to “conduct unbecoming an officer,” but even if he were, his crimes would never have been reported to his new neighbors.
In Mississippi, the Army released a specialist who had been convicted and served time for rape and forcible sodomy. He was supposed to register as a sex offender, but instead he wandered to Georgia and South Carolina and disappeared for 10 years, until local news reporters tracked him down.
In Texas, the Army released a private who’d been convicted and served time for assault and “indecent acts” against a young girl. Nobody was told he was a sex offender until he was charged with three more acts of sexual assault on a minor younger than 14.
These are among 242 identified cases where the military punished sex offenders, but released them without placing them in any local or FBI registry, as all civilian state prisons in the United States are required to do.
Worse, it was only possible to identify these instances from a 1,000-name database of those convicted offenders who appealed their cases — meaning this high rate of non-registry may also hold true for a much larger unidentified population.
Why weren’t these sex offenders tracked? Ordinarily, under the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, a sex offender is required to register before their release. But that law doesn’t apply to the U.S. military.
Although the military notifies local jurisdictions, the current system relies on convicted military sex offenders to register themselves within the communities where they wish to settle, something they obviously aren’t that motivated to do. They may also decide to move to a different location to remain undetected.
This shocking loophole allows sex offenders to go undetected and disappear within the communities they’ve been released into — something we don’t tolerate with civilian convicts and something there’s no reason to tolerate with military sex offenders.
The U.S. Marshals Service has said it is tracking down “some” of these individuals after these appalling revelations, but that’s simply not enough.
That’s why we are introducing the Military Track, Register and Alert Communities Act, which would establish a publicly available Defense Department sex-offender registry for military personnel convicted of rape, sexual assault or other sex-based offenses.
It would require sex offenders to register before being released from military prisons, and it would ensure the information on these offenders is available to states, civilian law enforcement agencies and concerned families.
This is a frightening loophole that must be closed.
February 25, 2015
Rep. Jackie Speier is a Democrat from California. Rep. Mike Coffman is a Republican from Colorado.