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Thursday, Aug. 25, 2011 02:37 pm

Keeping tabs on sex offenders

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Casey Carpenter is a sex offender’s Santa Claus.

More than 260 registered sex offenders tracked by Carpenter have been naughty in the past. It’s her job to make sure that they remain nice, or, at least, where they’re supposed to be when they’re supposed to be there. And so Carpenter, an administrative clerk at the Springfield Police Department, keeps lists and checks them twice.

Court records suggest that her efforts are paying off.

In all of 2010, 20 people were charged with failing to register as sex offenders in Sangamon County. Just through Aug. 16 this year, 23 people have been charged, and the numbers have been increasing. As of last week, a half-dozen people had been charged in August. Eight people were charged in July, and four charges were filed in June. Just five people were charged in the first five months of the year.

All but five of the cases filed this year originated in the Springfield Police Department.

“We’re paying more attention to them, trying to stop anything from slipping through the cracks,” says Deputy Chief Cliff Buscher.

Part of the increase in charges is due to compliance checks by street officers, Buscher says, but Carpenter plays a key role.

Carpenter doesn’t want her picture in the paper, but she is quick to smile and sounds a bit nervous during an interview – if there is a part, she doesn’t look it. She’s been fingerprinting, questioning, photographing and otherwise tracking sex offenders full time for five years. It generally takes about five minutes per offender, and she likes it better than her previous job in the department’s records division. For one thing, she has her own office.

“I volunteered for it,” Carpenter says. “At first, my dad was a little nervous.”

No longer. After all, where better to encounter a sex offender than the lobby of police headquarters, surrounded by cops with guns? And sex offenders, Carpenter has learned, are everywhere. The closest to her own home lives a few blocks away.

“And it has been pointed out to my kids,” she says.

Carpenter says that her friends know what she does for a living, and some say that they could never do it. Offenders recently released from prison are sometimes angry that they have to come see her when they change jobs, get a new car or move, but they adjust. She says that she has seen her charges at the fair and other places outside the department and never had a problem. Some will say hello, and one once offered her a CD of himself performing as a rap artist (she declined).

“I see them all the time,” Carpenter says. “I think they feel like they know me.”

Carpenter allows that she has some empathy for some offenders on her list who were juveniles when they got in trouble.

“Now, they’re a sex offender for the rest of their life, which, to me, probably stemmed from something that happened to them,” she says.

It’s Carpenter’s job to ensure that sex offenders aren’t living too close to schools and other places where they aren’t allowed, and there are any number of ways to raise her antennae. If an offender has difficulty reciting his address, for example, Carpenter is prone to have an officer pay a visit.

“A lot of times, they don’t want to give the correct address because there are children in the home,” Carpenter said.

It’s one thing if an offender barred from living near places where children congregate moves into a home with a picture window affording views of a playground across the street, Buscher said. But police understand honest mistakes, he says, and so an offender who inadvertently moves too close to an in-home daycare center, which isn’t always obvious, is typically given 30 days to comply with the law.

Buscher encourages the public to check the state’s sex-offender registry at www.isp.state.il.us/sor/.

“If you think someone should be on there and they’re not, definitely give us a call, and we’ll look into it,” Buscher said.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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