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Nearly 17 percent of sex offenders nationwide hide in plain sight, study says

Published: Friday, July 27 2012 2:53 p.m. MDT

Warren Jeffs is led from the Tom Green County Courthouse in San Angelo, Texas after his pretrial hearing Jan. 5, 2011. (AP Photo/San Angelo Standard-Times, Ken Grimm)

Ken Grimm, AP

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RIVERTON — A new national study shows that nearly 1 in 6 convicted sex offenders have altered their identities and personal information. But Utah officials say the state has managed to buck that trend.

Preliminary results of the federally funded report out of Utica College found that 16.6 percent of sex offenders used aliases, stole identification, changed their names and moved without notifying proper authorities.

The Utah Department of Corrections says only 3 to 4 percent of the 7,000 registered sex offenders in Utah are out of compliance. That is down from 12 percent just four years ago.

One thing that makes the difference is officers pounding the pavement, Unified Police Lt. Justin Hoyal said. Law enforcement officials make physical visits once a month to the homes of registered sex offenders to check up on their compliance.

If they are not in compliance with up-to-date address, vehicle, employment and education information they've got three days to do so or they can face new charges and penalties.

"They've even got to the point that some of them are on a first-name basis with them because they check on them so frequently," Hoyal said.

Better policing, a database shared by all law enforcement agencies in the state and in-person registration is required at least twice per year are all factors that contribute to the compliance rate.

"Some states, for example, will allow offenders to actually send their updated registry information through the mail," said Utah Department of Corrections spokesman Steven Gehrke.

Stephanie Flynn of Riverton says her former neighbor was a registered sex offender. He lived one street over from her.

"I was A-OK with them living here," Flynn said. "He'd served his time. I knew what he had done and knew what the crime was. I felt like he was trying to comply with the law and he was just trying to live a normal life and he did not feel like a threat because we knew that he was here."

But the study showing that many alter their identities left her unsettled.

"To me it feels like they might be trying to offend again; that they don't want to be found and if they change who they are, they might go out there and try to do something else," Flynn said.

This report has some states really upset. Three states — Nevada, Tennessee and Delaware — are contesting the results. The study found more than 25 percent of the sex offenders in those states appear to be avoiding tracking and monitoring by law enforcement.

E-mail: aadams@ksl.com

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