Sex offenders spur concerns in Maplewood neighborhood
Residents' alarm over high number of offenders living in area prompts relocation of school bus stop
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
The Clark County Sheriff’s Office OffenderWatch website allows people to search for sex offenders living within a quarter mile, half mile, one mile and two miles of a given address. The site also offers email alerts, which notify residents when a registered offender moves nearby. Visit the site at OffenderWatch.
Residents of the Maplewood neighborhood are alarmed by what they consider to be a high concentration of undesirable people living in their area.
More than a dozen registered sex offenders -- three Level 3 offenders and 11 Level 2 offenders -- list an address in the Maplewood neighborhood as their place of residence. Of those, three Level 3 and three Level 2 offenders live on the same block on East 18th Street, according to Clark County Sheriff's Office records as of Jan. 24.
Level 3 sex offenders are the group considered most likely to commit new sex crimes.
"We were saying, 'This seems kind of disproportionate,'" said Cyndi Powers, chairwoman of the Maplewood Neighborhood Association.
The neighbors' perception isn't off-base. Vancouver Police Cpl. Duane Boynton, the neighborhood police officer, said Maplewood probably does have more offenders than most other neighborhoods.
That's likely because offenders tend to acquire housing in lower-rent areas, he said. Maplewood has many apartment complexes along East 18th Street that offer low-rent housing. Other neighborhoods with low-rent options -- such as Rose Village and Vancouver Mall, which has a high apartment density -- also tend to be home to more offenders, Boynton said.
Concern in Maplewood initially arose in August when a resident saw a notice in The Columbian about a Level 3 sex offender moving into the neighborhood. A few weeks later, neighbors learned another Level 3 offender moved into a residence on the same block.
At that point, neighbors started asking questions, Powers said.
Can they all live in the same apartment complex? Is this a halfway house?
Then, in November, parents discovered one of the Level 3 offenders talking to elementary school-age kids waiting for the school bus, Powers said.
A search on the Clark County Sheriff's Office website revealed numerous other Level 2 and Level 3 offenders were living within the boundaries of the neighborhood. The results alarmed parents and other residents.
"More and more neighbors wanted to know the laws," Powers said.
Powers reached out to the city of Vancouver and Boynton. They arranged to have representatives from the Washington State Department of Corrections and Clark County Sheriff's Office speak to residents at the Jan. 17 Maplewood Neighborhood Association meeting.
Boynton also followed up with the offender who was talking to children at the bus stop. The offender wasn't doing anything illegal, although many considered his actions suspicious, Boynton said.
Boynton worked with Vancouver Public Schools to get the bus stop moved so it didn't stop directly in front of the man's apartment, he said.
Boynton recently learned the man is being evicted as a result of repeated police contacts and complaints from neighbors and other apartment residents.
"I think the neighbors, to a degree, had an effect on having him evicted," Boynton said.
The state doesn't have any overarching laws restricting where offenders can live or preventing them from living near other offenders, said Chad Lewis, spokesman for the Department of Corrections.
The Department of Corrections only has authority over offenders under community supervision, Lewis said. Those offenders must submit for approval the address where they want to live. A community corrections supervisor then investigates the property and makes sure it doesn't violate any conditions of the offender's release, such as being near a victim's house, Lewis said.
"Once they complete the supervision, we have no legal authority to tell them where they can live," he said.
The specific offenders causing concern among Maplewood neighbors are only required to register their addresses with the sheriff's office; they aren't bound by any other requirements, Boynton said.
Powers, the neighborhood association chair, hopes to organize a meeting with neighbors, the Department of Corrections and the owner of a couple properties where offenders are living. She hopes together they can come up with some potential solutions.
"I don't know what the outcome is going to be," she said.