Sex offender count is up: Police chief wants to know why Thursday, September 15, 2005
Lisa Kocian 508-820-4231 Boston Globe West
The number of dangerous sex offenders in Framingham appears to be on the rise, and police want to know why.

Twenty Level 3 sex offenders live or work in town, according to the state Sex Offender Registry Board website.  That's up from 12 in April 2004.

Police Chief Steven Carl said his department is trying to find out whether the offenders have lived in Framingham long and, if not, why they came to town.

He said he expects to receive a preliminary report by the end of the week.

It could be they are from town originally, said Carl, and are returning after being released from prison.

"The other theory could be they're being released and they're coming to Framingham for other reasons, whether it's services or housing or jobs," he said.

Carl said sex offenders have rights, but if it's determined that the vast majority are not Framingham natives and are here as clients of social service programs, then he would ask the town manager and selectmen if it's possible to ask agencies to accept fewer of them.

Sex offenders are given the Level 3 designation when the state board determines there is a high risk they will commit another sex crime.

Controversy has been swirling in town over agencies that are running a growing number of programs for the homeless, battered women, children, the elderly, and drug and alcohol abusers.  Some residents are concerned that the programs are a magnet for trouble, while others say they are giving unfortunate people needed help.

Most of the Level 3 offenders listed on the state website live or work downtown, with seven of them listing their home address as 105 Irving St. , the Common Ground overflow homeless shelter.

"I'm sorry; something's going on," said Selectwoman Ginger Esty, who wants the facility closed.

The shelter is known locally as the "wet" shelter because it accepts people who are currently using drugs or alcohol.

Jim Cuddy, executive director of the South Middlesex Opportunity Council, which runs the shelter and is the town's largest social services agency, said that only two Level 3 sex offenders live at the shelter, not the seven listed on the state website or the six listed on a town police website.

"What happens is that people use the overflow as an address and never actually show up there," said Cuddy.

But Chief Carl said he's confident in his numbers.  Police also believe three less-dangerous Level 2 offenders live at the shelter as well as two offenders who haven't been classified yet by the state board.

"I don't think Mr. Cuddy would be less than candid with you," Carl said.  "They might not have told him they're registered sex offenders."

Carl said his department is "proactive" in monitoring sex offenders.

"If they say [they live] at 105 Irving St., we go down there looking for them," he said.  "We take it very seriously."

Cuddy acknowledged that Level 3 sex offenders are a problem.

"An overflow shelter is the worst possible place that a sex offender could end up because of the lack of control," said Cuddy, who noted that sex offenders at the shelter get no special treatment or extra monitoring.

"We would prefer to see the criminal justice system take a look at what happens to Level 3 classified individuals, and to make some determination as to -- if they're going to live in communities -- how they can live in communities so the community feels safe," he said.

SMOC does not place Level 3 sex offenders in its permanent housing programs because they are too dangerous, but the agency does have one such offender living in its permanent housing because he was there before the property was bought by SMOC and the agency does not displace people in such cases, said Cuddy.

The rising number of Level 3 offenders is one of the many topics being explored by a new study committee, which is looking at the impact of social service agencies on the town, said Robert Berman, chairman of the committee.

Framingham has seen a slight drop in the number of Level 2 offenders, those deemed by the state a moderate risk, since Globe West reviewed the Level 2 and Level 3 sex offender numbers in April 2004.  There are 80 now, compared with 85 then.

Two cases at first thought to be involving sex offenders living at the wet shelter have made headlines recently.

A Level 3 offender who is listed as living at the wet shelter was recently arrested and charged with open and gross lewdness and indecent assault and battery on a person over 14 years old in connection with an incident in Roosevelt Park.  But the charges were dropped when it turned out to be a case of mistaken identity, according to Melissa Sherman, spokeswoman for the Middlesex district attorney's office.

And Henry McCollum, an unclassified sex offender who told police he lives at the wet shelter, was charged Sunday with unarmed robbery of a person over 65, according to Carl.

Framingham resident Matt Elliott said he is worried about the concentration of sex offenders in the downtown area.

"There are children who live right around there," he said.  "I've seen them out there playing and riding on their bikes."

Elliott said he was also concerned about the presence of sex offenders hurting efforts to revitalize downtown.

"I worry for downtown, I worry for the kind of perception it casts on Framingham, and I worry most for the safety of kids and the women who live around there," he said.

Charles McDonald, a spokesman for the Sex Offender Registry Board, said one reason for the increase in Level 3 sex offenders listed could simply be clerical.  The board had a backlog of sex offenders it was working to classify in April 2004, so some sex offenders weren't on the website yet that should have been.  The backlog has now been cleared.

Town Manager George P. King Jr. said he doesn't think the presence of sex offenders is a huge barrier to revitalization efforts.  He said one reason the town's numbers have gone up is that police have been pressing offenders to register with the state.

"We've been very aggressive in making sure we get people who are supposed to be registered registered," he said.  "Our ability to do a lot about . . . sex offenders is limited, no question about it."

Esty said she disagrees with King about the potential impact on downtown.

"You have to absolutely be blind to reality if you think you can sell the idea of upgrading the downtown, leaving what's going on there now in place," she said.

Carol Donovan, the special litigation director at the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the state's public defender agency, suggested that the public may be safer if sex offenders can find housing once they're released from prison.

She said the sex offender registration system looks to her like a witch hunt, with the offenders being driven out of their homes and jobs once their past is posted on the Internet.

"Does it protect children, elderly people, other vulnerable people, from becoming victims of former sex offenders to pressure these former sex offenders out of their homes, out of their jobs, out of their communities?" she asked.

The money spent on the registry could be better spent on rehabilitation for sex offenders and services for victims, she argued.

"If you're homeless and unemployed, you know, what is there for you?  How likely is it you're going to find something productive to do with your life?  How are you going to dig yourself out of this hole?" said Donovan.

Rather than policy makers coming up with a real solution, she said, "It seems to make people feel better if the government is out there batting around the former sex offenders with a broom."

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