A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Law enforcement agencies join forces on Operation Back to School to check compliance of sex offenders

By Mark Hansel
NKyTribune managing editor

Law enforcement officials from throughout the region came together in Erlanger Tuesday morning to help ensure Northern Kentucky’s children have a safer path to school.

Erlanger Police Officer Justin Auton (foreground) and Kenny Vanover, sex offender investigation coordinator for the U.S. Marshal’s office, brief law investigators as they prepare to engage in Operation Back to School Tuesday morning (photos by Mark Hansel).

Operation Back to School, a program led by the Erlanger Police Department, included participants from seven departments and the U.S. Marshal’s office who spent the day making home visits to verify information on the Kentucky sex offender registry.

“Erlanger Police wanted to make sure the sex offender registry in their city was accurate,” Kenton Commonwealth’s Attorney Rob Sanders said. “As kids go back to school, parents can check the Kentucky State Police website and see if there are any registered sex offenders in between their home and where their child either goes to school, or gets on a school bus, and know exactly what dangers are out there. That’s the whole purpose of the sex offender registry and the Erlanger Police want to make sure the registry is accurate.”

Sex offenders are required to register their address with local law enforcement when they are released into the general population or when they move from one place to another.

The Kentucky State Police Sex Offender Registry  allows site visitors to search up to a five-mile radius within an area to locate information on registered sex offenders who live in an area. Clicking on an individual’s name provides additional information, including the address and a photo of the registered sex offender.

Law enforcement officers prepare to participate in Operation Back to School Tuesday morning. The multi-jurisdictional exercise was coordinated by the Erlanger Police Department to verify compliance of sex offenders in Northern Kentucky.

A search using the keywords “Erlanger” and “Kenton County” indicated 85 registered sex offenders living within the five-mile radius. Searches will often show a cluster of homes within an area because most sex offenders are prohibited from living in close proximity to schools, parks or day cares.

Erlanger Police Officer Justin Auton and Kenny Vanover, sex offender investigation coordinator with the U.S. Marshal’s office, led the morning briefing.

Teams were provided with packets of information on the offenders, and an operation plan, and were given a brief overview of the operation, before heading into the field.

“The whole goal of Operation Back to School is to do a sex offender compliance check,” Auton said. “We want to make sure that these folks are doing what they are supposed to be doing and abiding by the laws under Chapter 17 of the Kentucky Revised Statute. I titled this Operation Back to School because a lot of schools are heading back today and we want to make sure everything is in compliance with the law.”

Auton encouraged those conducting checks to get as much information as possible to verify that the person is actually living at the address.

Kenton Commonwealth’s Attorney Rob Sanders said the checks of sex offenders are conducted on as as-needed basis to confirm compliance and identify those in violation.

Investigators were instructed to look for evidence that would indicate the offender is actually living at the residence including:

*Names on mailboxes
*If subject has mail matter in the residence
*Clothing and other personal items
*Hygiene items, such as toothbrushes
*Prescription medicines in their name
*The address on their ID or driver’s license

If the offender is on supervised release with parole and probation, investigators were also instructed to look for evidence of children living in the home, internet accessible devices and pornography.

Auton said it is important to get as much information as possible during the visit, especially if the offender is not at home at the time.

“When you knock on the door, hopefully someone answers, if it’s not the offender themselves, find out who they are,” Auton said. “That will guide you along in your case. If we can get a phone number for the subject, that will help us in terms of following up with them. Also, was there a school, playground or day care within a thousand feet?”

A search of the Kentucky State Police Offender Registry using the keywords “Erlanger” and “Kenton County” indicated 85 registered sex offenders living within a five-mile radius. Click to enlarge.

Basically, Auton encouraged investigators to obtain any useful information, such as a place of employment or license plate number of a car, that might help with a follow-up investigation.

Vanover said the U.S. Marshal’s office provides help to local law enforcement, as needed or requested.

“Under the Adam Walsh Act, one of the things that we are supposed to do is assist local law enforcement in managing their sex offender population,” Vanover said. “A lot of times they don’t really need our help, they do a very good job, especially in this area. I do the packets, we’ll run background checks to get the most current address, do some administrative work, then we get together, we divide them out and find out who is not where they are supposed to be.”

At the end of the day, the teams get together to share information and issue warrants for noncompliance, if necessary. Vanover said warrants can either be local, or if an offender crosses a state line without notification or registration in the new residence, that is a Federal crime and the U.S. Marshal’s office has jurisdiction.

“If you’re registered at your mother’s and you’re living somewhere else, and hiding that, we naturally wonder what else you are hiding,” Vanover said.

Sanders said normally there are a handful of arrests that are not related to the compliance check, such as a drug offense or a convicted felon in possession of a handgun.

Erlanger Police Officer Justin Auton (right) speaks with someone at a home that is listed as the residence of a registered sex offender, while another officer watches the back of the home from an adjacent house. The person listed on the registry was not at home at the time of the compliance check. Click to enlarge.

“More often than not, what it leads to is further investigation that leads to warrants being put out for non-compliant sex offenders,” Sanders said. “If they go to a house and it’s vacant, obviously there is nobody there to arrest, but that leads to further investigation to find out where this sex offender went. If we can’t locate them…then we will put a warrant out for their arrest.”

The investigation, Sanders said, is not really measured in arrests from the compliance checks, but in how many addresses were verified and in the number of incarcerations down the road that result from the operation.

The multi-jurisdictional effort crossed county lines because the Department of Probation and Parole is responsible for all of Northern Kentucky. Investigators were scheduled to check on offenders in Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties.

Sanders said there is no set schedule for the compliance checks, but it makes sense to conduct an investigation when children are returning to school.

“Often times it depends on the different agencies to decide they are going to head up an operation such as this one,” Sanders said. “In this case, it’s Erlanger Police that have taken the lead and obviously getting a lot of cooperation from other agencies, but we’ve done the same thing with other agencies. Covington does this on a somewhat regular basis, once or twice a year, plus they have officers that do compliance checks all year round.”

A total of 175 compliance checks were scheduled to be conducted Tuesday and into today, if necessary.

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com

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  1. Note to registered citizens, if you are not on probation or parole, DO NOT let the US Marshals in your home or even on your property without a warrant. The Marshals have no authority to enter your home without a warrant, so do not give them the satisfaction of making you feel like you have to give up your rights.

  2. Chris says:

    I love how they always make it sound like they can’t live with children or cant have devices to access the internet. Total BS.

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