Herald editorial board
As shown on a large, colored map in Sunday's Grand Forks Herald, sex offenders are among us. Most sex offenders in Grand Forks are considered by the state of North Dakota to be low-risk; however, a half-dozen in the city are high-risk offenders and, according to the state, deserve a higher level of scrutiny.
How did we find this information? It's easy, thanks to the North Dakota Sex Offender Registry, found on the state Attorney General's Office website. To determine the residences of sex offenders anywhere in North Dakota, simply find the AG's website and click on the "sex offender website" link on the right side of the page. From there, users can maneuver through various links, including one labeled "map high risk offenders near me." The rest is self-evident and quite informative.
The ease at which we can find this information is why we are not alarmed to learn North Dakota does not yet meet federal guidelines for its existing sex offender registry.
As noted in the in-depth story in Sunday's edition, all states run their own databases but are urged to follow a list of federal guidelines while doing so. At present, only 18 states have substantially implemented the rules; North Dakota and Minnesota are not among them.
At first blush, this naturally raises red flags. After all, the Herald recently used this very space to declare the state must do better with its day care registry, which shows a glaring lack of transparency and which does not meet suggested guidelines.
The state has met sex offender database requirements to some degree, but some guidelines listed for improvement still need tweaking, including offense-based tiering, providing a 21-day advance notice of international travel, and using an email alert system when an offender moves into and out of an area.
Regarding an email system, that sounds useful. But while the state does not have a system that allows for email alerts for all sex offenders, the state does require local law enforcement agencies to alert neighborhood residents when a high-risk offender moves in.
We like the idea of an improved email system. However, North Dakota's database outpaces federal guidelines in some areas, including its risk assessment of each offender. Federal guidelines call for organization based on crimes committed, but do not require risk assessment.
Yet North Dakota's sex offender registry - as it exists today - is informative, transparent and very easy to use. After an afternoon of testing it, we do not find it lacking.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said that if the state complies with federal standards, it could actually make the current website less useful to residents. And state leaders have told us the system is much better than the "one-size-fits-all" federal format.
After testing the site ourselves, we are satisfied.