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Keeping tabs on registered sex offenders

Melissa Topey • Sep 9, 2013 at 7:50 PM

For the most part, Erie County Sheriff’s Capt. Steve Westcott is responsible for making sure the sheriff’s department keeps track of them all.

I joined Westcott one morning last week for an On the Job segment, hitting the road as we verified the addresses of just a few of the many sex offenders. “Most, I do not lose sleep over,” Westcott said. “But a handful, I do.”

He worries mainly about the repeat offenders, and those who are registered as sexual predators. He also worries about the ones who don’t have strong support systems at home.

After 27 years in law enforcement — 13 of them overseeing the sex offender registrations — Westcott has developed something of a gut instinct to help identify the people who are apt to offend again.

When a registered sex offender provides a false address or fails to register, it’s a felony, and it can result in jail or prison time. The sentence often depends on the seriousness of the original crime that landed him or her on the list. During his rounds one day last week, Westcott was checking up on Amos Richardson, Michael Cromley and Robert Nelson. All three are registered and in compliance with the laws that regulate their movement and actions, but Westcott routinely spends part of his afternoons verifying the addresses of sex offenders.

If there’s an empty lot at an address a registered offender provides, for instance, that’s a problem. Westcott said he wants to see the person, in person, as often as possible.

Megan’s Law and the Adam Walsh Act are key in governing the way society handles sex offenders, such as their requirements for reporting to authorities once they’re released from prison or jail. Some offenders have to report more often, visiting the sheriff’s office in person and providing their current address. The Adam Walsh Act also prohibits offenders from living too close to a school or state-registered day care.

Westcott has to know the details of both laws.

Richardson was last known to stay on Tiffin Avenue, and he had previously stayed at a home on McEwen Street. We didn’t see him when we drove by the Tiffin Avenue home, so Westcott though he might be hanging around his former home.

When we stopped by McEwen Street, a woman there said Richardson was no longer a resident, and she hadn’t seen him. We continued our search.

Cromley has an address on East Adams Street, where he sleeps, but he often spends his days about the city, Westcott said.

Quite often, Cromley is found downtown on Columbus Avenue, although on the weekends he typically stays with a relative in Huron, Westcott said. Still, he knows he has to be back in Sandusky before 72 hours elapses.

Westcott said he always sees Cromley back in the city before Monday. We drove by the East Adams Street apartment looking for him, but didn’t see him. We eventually spotted him walking down Washington Street.

“He’s harmless,” Westcott said.

Nelson is homeless, which could normally present a problem in locating someone, but Westcott knows his habits, and he can usually find him quickly.

Westcott said he’ll often drive by Shoreline Park and Jackson Street Pier looking for those on the list. We never found Nelson on Wednesday, but the following day Erie County Sheriff Paul Sigsworth saw him. Nelson then went to sheriff’s office to meet with Westcott, to verify he was still in compliance with law.

There are variety of sex offenders on Westcott’s list — all different professions, socioeconomic backgrounds, race, ages and various characteristics.

“I don’t judge these people,” Westcott said. “I’ve been doing this long enough that I am understanding.”

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