In banning sex offenders, Navy faces tough task
By ERIK SLAVIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 10, 2009
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Nearly a year after the Department of the Navy issued a tough policy barring sex offenders from Navy and Marine Corps bases, the service is struggling to enforce it.
Sex offenders must be identified and banned from all bases unless they receive a waiver, according to an Oct. 7, 2008, memo from then-Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter and a May 27 memo detailing the order.
But identifying sex offenders could require installations worldwide to check their many thousands of servicemembers, civilians and dependents against flawed and sometimes inaccurate sex offender registries.
“We don’t want sex offenders in the Navy and we’re going to do whatever is required to make sure we’re effective,” current Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said Aug. 27 near Yokosuka Naval Base. “In terms of background checks and things like that, I don’t know. It’s an ongoing thing that we’re looking at.”
Winter’s order originally called for the policy to be implemented by last December. For now, anyone applying for on-base housing must sign a form stating whether they or their command-sponsored family members have committed a sex offense.
“The other aspects still remain under review because it’s partly in the discovery phase of how to execute this,” said Capt. William Fenick, spokesman for the Navy’s installations command headquarters in Washington.
No date has been set for when that phase will be complete, Fenick said.
The Army and Air Force don’t have polices that call for sex offenders to be identified and banned. However, base commanders have broad authority to restrict access and housing to any individual.
How to find a sex offender
States run their own registries, but there is no federal registry for sex offenders on an overseas military base.
If a Navy or Marine base wanted to check for a sex crime conviction in a civilian court, it could turn to individual state registries, or to a federal database compiled from the state registries.
Either option has its flaws.
A sex offender living on a base overseas — and in some cases, within the United States — might no longer be listed publicly as a sex offender.
When a sex offender leaves a state, “some [states] keep the offenders on an inactive status, but still posted on their Web sites, while others remove them entirely from both,” said Lori McPherson, a policy adviser with the Department of Justice’s Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking Office, or SMART.
While there is a National Sex Offender Public Web site www.nsopw.gov, it is a collection of state data and not a registry.
Both that site and the FBI’s National Sex Offender Registry rely on reporting by state and local agencies, many of which differ on what information to report and when to do it.
A December 2008 report from the Department of Justice Inspector General found that both the public and FBI databases “are inaccurate and incomplete.”
The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act required the SMART office, the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department to develop a system that would track registered sex offenders when they leave or return to the United States.
That system also is a work in progress, said McPherson, though it should improve tracking of military-affiliated sex offenders overseas.