Funny how people are all for sex offender registries, but when they start working on a gun owner registry, DUI registry, meth registry, and others, people then start raising hell about civil and human rights. Well, if it's good for sex offenders, then it's good enough for everyone else. Let's put all criminals, for any crime, on a public registry, so we can see who all the criminals are. If it protects one person, it's all good, right?
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The primary purpose of Nevada's sex offender registry is not the ostracization of felons, although the list certainly does that. First and foremost, law enforcement agencies maintain a Web site of convicted, released predators to alert citizens to the identities and whereabouts of those considered most likely to re-offend.
The registry is supposed to minimize public hysteria by sorting out the worst of the worst, enabling those interested to more accurately measure any safety risks to themselves and their loved ones.
But legislators, anxious to appear tough on crime, know points can be scored playing to the electorate's fears. Last year, the Legislature passed a law that would have reclassfied more than 2,000 low-level offenders as high-risk, flooding the Web database with enough names, addresses and photographs to put a sexual deviant on every street. That law was blocked by the courts pending appeals on its constitutionality.
Now comes Assemblyman James Ohrenschall, D-Las Vegas, with a proposal for an all-new criminal registry. If re-elected this year, Mr. Ohrenschall wants to create the country's first Internet database of domestic violence offenders. The idea, he said, is to let people type in the names of suitors to see whether they have criminal histories of felony abuse.
"I haven't spoken to one woman who doesn't like the idea, and I haven't spoken to one man who has a sister or a daughter who doesn't like the idea," said Mr. Ohrenschall.
But would Mr. Ohrenschall's registry really make the public any safer? Olfelia Monje, a victim advocate for the Metropolitan Police Department, says many domestic abusers are indeed likely to re-offend, but suspects charged with felonies often negotiate guilty pleas on misdemeanors, and that some repeat offenders have no felony convictions on their records.
How many thousands of people would have to report to the state if Mr. Ohrenschall's bill were expanded to identify misdemeanor offenders? Sue Meuschke, executive director of the Nevada Network against Domestic Violence, points out that oftentimes it is the victim who is arrested and winds up with a conviction.
Mr. Ohrenschall's plan does nothing to segregate repeat offenders from first-timers, creating a huge new class of lifetime criminals who might lose more than a second or third date -- they could lose their livelihoods as well, even though they pose no legitimate public safety threat.
If, on the other hand, lawmakers are serious about protecting productive, law-abiding citizens from predators likely to re-offend, why not create a database of financial and property crime offenders -- the career car thieves and burglars who only need a few seconds to steal possessions purchased through months and years of diligent, honorable work?
Why play the political game of alerting us to certain types of offenders, but sending us to the courthouse or the police substation to search for others? Why not create a database of public records that lets us learn everything about everyone, from speeding tickets to bar fights?
The answer is that the creation of lists for every offense would move us even closer to a police state, where every citizen wears a scarlet letter around his neck.
In addition, such endeavors are extremely expensive to create and require the establishment of all-new bureaucracies to coordinate and manage them for very little overall public benefit. If a particular record is important enough to a taxpayer -- such as whether a new beau has a domestic violence conviction -- it's not overly burdensome to require her to make a phone call or a trip to a government office to request it.
Yes, domestic violence causes a great deal of pain in neighborhoods everywhere and warrants sufficient attention from authorities and charities. But especially in today's economy, state resources are best spent on services that have a record of results, not feel-good experiments in political pandering.
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