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Thursday, July 22, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Guest Editorial -- 1990 Act Helps Guard Against Sex Offenders

The recent arson to the home of sex offender Joseph Gallardo, presumably by an angry and concerned neighbor, will do nothing more than further tie the hands of law enforcement and hurt the very people the law was meant to protect: the law-abiding citizen.

In 1990, the Washington State Legislature passed the "Community Protection Act," which made sweeping changes in the law regarding sex offenders. In its finding and policy statement, the legislature states in part: "The Legislature finds that sex offenders pose a high risk of engaging in sex offenses even after being released from incarceration or commitment and that protection of the public from sex offenders is a paramount governmental interest. . . . Therefore, this state's policy as expressed as RCW 4.25.550 is to require the exchange of relevant information about sexual predators among public agencies and officials and to authorize the release of relevant information about sexual predators to members of the general public."

This policy gave law enforcement a tool we never had before. For years, sex offenders were being released into the community, unbeknownst to law enforcement, let alone the neighborhood in which the sex offender was residing. The Community Protection Act of 1990 mandated:

1) Registration of sex offenders with the sheriff of the county in which they reside within 24 hours of their release from incarceration. Sex offenders who are convicted in other states but move into Washington state are required to register within 30 days.

2) A reduction in "good time." A sex offender can have their sentence reduced by 15 percent instead of the previous one-third.

3) A substantial increase in sentences for sex offenders.

4) When a sex offender happens to be a juvenile, the law now allows an exchange of that information between public agencies and with the general public. Never before have we had that ability. Before the passage of this law, DSHS - Division of Juvenile Rehabilitation would not even verify for law enforcement that a juvenile was under their care, custody or control.

5) Indefinite, involuntary civil commitment for a narrow group of sexually violent "predators." This law was designed to target rapists whose acts are directed toward strangers or individuals with whom a relationship has been established for the purpose of victimization. They also need to suffer from a mental abnormality or personality disorder which makes them likely to engage in predatory acts of sexual violence. This component of the law is a first in the United States and has come under heavy attack. It was the subject of an episode of ABC News' Nightline and was recently argued before the Washington State Supreme Court as to its constitutionality.

While the Community Protection Act is not as tough as most of us would like to see it, it is a monumental improvement over what we had before.

As a detective with the Seattle Police Department in the Special Assault Unit I have investigated over 200 cases of sexual assault, most of them against children. I cannot adequately describe the terror, anxiety and betrayal that victims of sexual assault feel. Nor can I adequately describe how physically and emotionally drained investigators get when conducting these difficult investigations.

No matter how angry we are or disgusted we get, we are sworn to uphold the U. S. Constitution We are extremely careful not to make a mistake so the victim will have to suffer through an additional trial on appeal and so the victim is able to begin healing.

As of January of this year, I am no longer investigating sexual-assault cases. I am now responsible for tracking the 976 sexual offenders that reside within the Seattle city limits. (There are over 6,000 sex offenders residing in the state of Washington, of which over 1,900 reside in King County.)

As part of my duties I have attended community meetings to talk with citizens about the sex offenders living in their neighborhood. Naturally, they are anxious and concerned. What I point out to them is that they are now the ones with the power. Because of the Community Protection Act of 1990, they know where the sex offender lives and who he or she is. I also point out that they had many sex offenders living among them before the new law that they never knew about.

I caution each of them not to take the law into there own hands by making death threats to the offender, threatening him/her with physical injury if they don't move from the neighborhood or doing anything to harass the offender.The fact is the offender has served his/her time. They have a constitutional right to live wherever they choose and an opportunity to try and straighten out their lives.

Finally, I remind them that what the Legislature giveth, the Legislature can taketh away. We have a great tool that allows us to notify the community of potential danger. If the public is not able to handle that information, the Legislature will change the law.

Much to my dismay, after learning of the burning of Joseph Gallardo's home, state Rep. Marlin Appelwick, D-Seattle, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and one of the sponsors of the Community Protection Act of 1990, told the media the notification went too far. His committee will now study the effects of law-enforcement notification to the community.

More incidents like the arson of Joseph Gallardo's home and the community response will cause the law to change for the worse.

Constructive citizen activism, paying close attention to issues and candidates (including judges) at election time, exercising your voice by vote and letting your legislators know what you want to see as the law will change the law for the better.

Please, do us all a favor. Show our legislators that you are capable of handling the community protection information. Stop the vigilante justice.

Robert Shilling Jr., a Lake Stevens resident and 20-year law-enforcement veteran, is president of the Washington State Council of Police Officers and a detective with the Seattle Police Department.

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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