Letter of the law 

Springs police reviewing sex offender site following Indy inquiry

click to enlarge Colorado Springs police Chief Luis Velez. - FILE PHOTO
  • File Photo
  • Colorado Springs police Chief Luis Velez.

A new Web site meant to help inform the public about sex felons in Colorado Springs does not list what crimes the offenders were convicted of, an apparent violation of state law.

The site, created by the city's police department, is one of a handful that have popped up across Colorado following passage of a new state law this summer that gives local law enforcement agencies the power to disclose the whereabouts of sex offenders through the Internet.

"Society has decided that some of these individuals might be scarier than even a murderer," Chief Luis Velez told the Independent two weeks ago, when the site was created.

Linked through springsgov.com, the Web site includes names, addresses, dates of birth and other information, such as eye color, of roughly 600 sex offenders.

But the site fails to include their crimes. The state law says that a "history of the convictions of unlawful sexual behavior" shall be included with offenders' information.

The site was expected to generate 15,000 hits in its first week.

This week, in response to the Independent's inquiry, police spokesman Lt. Rafael Cintron said the department has been contacted by the attorney general's office in Denver, which enforces state statutes. Attorneys for the police department now are taking a closer look at whether the site complies with the law, Cintron said.

Meanwhile, Bill Martinez, a local public defender, maintains that the site indeed should list the crimes committed so that people can gauge the severity of the potential danger.

"It leaves the public free to speculate: Are they all child molesters?" he says. "Clearly, they're not."

For example, the list might include those identified as sexually violent predators, such as Marcos Gonzalez, who was released this week from the Department of Corrections. But others could be guilty of relatively minor crimes. For example, a young adult man who had a sexual relationship with a juvenile girlfriend could be included on the list. A person who had extramarital sex and did not disclose the marriage also could be on the list.

"There's no way to know," Martinez says.

Two weeks ago, Velez said the department decided against including offenders' crimes for financial reasons. The department invested roughly $300 on its Web site, and Velez compared that to the $31,000 the Colorado Bureau of Investigation spent on its sex offender Web site -- which specifies the crimes committed and also provides extensive searching capabilities that the city's site does not.

Martinez is miffed that monetary concerns appear to have dictated Velez's actions.

"If you don't have the fiscal resources to comply with the law, then don't do it," he says.

The El Paso County Sheriff's Office, which recently created its own Web site listing sex offenders, includes offenders' crimes because the new law appears to require it, says spokesman Lt. Clif Northam.

Rep. Dale Hall, the Greeley Republican who authored the new state law, hadn't seen the city's Web site and couldn't comment on it specifically. Nonetheless, he says he expects agencies to "obey the statute."

Under the old law, residents had to demonstrate to police a "need to know" about sex offenders living in their communities, which then were released by law agencies.

Martinez contends that sex offender Web sites prey on base fears.

"You could get the situation where an offender is being harassed," he says, noting that most offenders already are subjected to intensive treatment and rigorous monitoring.

-- Michael de Yoanna


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