Topeka — Law authorities have lost track of nearly 14 percent of sex offenders in Kansas, according to an audit released Tuesday by Atty. Gen. Phill Kline.
Kline said the Kansas rate was worse than some states, better than others, but pointed to the need to increase penalties for violating the sex offender registry system.
"We are going to explore ways that we can improve," Kline said at a news conference with a group of sheriffs who participated in a random check of compliance, including Douglas County Sheriff Ken McGovern.
In Kansas, people convicted of sex crimes must register with law enforcement officials and provide their address, place of employment and vehicle information. There are 4,026 registered offenders, approximately two-thirds of them convicted of a crime involving a child.
The offenders are listed on a Kansas Bureau of Investigation Web site at http://www.access kansas.org/kbi/ro.shtml.
In a random check of 190 registered offenders in 43 counties during the week of July 25, 21 percent, or 40 offenders, were not at their registered address, Kline said.
Kline said similar audits in other states found some had higher rates of noncompliance, such as California with 44 percent, Wisconsin, 29 percent, and Oklahoma, 25 percent. Some had lower rates, including Colorado, 7.4 percent and Nebraska, 6.9 percent.
After a second pass through Kansas, officials made contact with a number of offenders, reducing the rate to 13.7 percent, or 26, who were not at their registered address.
"So another conclusion from the audit is that 13.7 percent of the offenders who are required to register in Kansas are essentially absconders from the law," Kline said.
In Douglas County, seven offenders were selected to be checked, and one remained missing.
McGovern, the Douglas County sheriff, said the missing offender is apparently out of state and had been a student. He declined to give further details.
He said the emphasis by Kline on offender registration was "a big, positive step."
In the area, three offenders selected in Franklin County were in compliance, as were three in Leavenworth. Two of 14 offenders were missing in Johnson County, seven of 13 in Wyandotte County, and two of 15 in Shawnee County.
Kline said one of the problems with offenders not complying with the registration requirements is that failure to comply is punishable only with probation.
He said he would form a task force of sheriffs and legislators to provide recommendations to the 2006 Legislature that meets in January.
The task force will consider strengthening penalties for sex crimes, establishing a KBI team to help track offenders who don't report address changes, strengthening policies with other states when offenders cross state lines and using new technologies to keep tabs on offenders.
"Kansas children have a fundamental right to be safe from exploitation, violence and predatory activity," Kline said.
"Kansas parents deserve the peace of mind of knowing that their children learn and play in a safe community."
Kline urged Kansans seeking information to access the KBI Web site, though he cautioned that the list of offenders wasn't complete.
Even the Web site has disclaimers about its accuracy.
"It is common for offenders to move and fail to notify the sheriff's office in their county of residence of that change," reads a Web site warning.