Former judge says sex offender registry gives ‘false sense’ of security and lawmakers weigh in.

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WWMT NEWSCHANNEL 3) – Does the sex offender registry really keep you safe?

A former West Michigan judge says it’s giving you a false sense of security.

Newschannel 3 looked into those claims, taking our search across state lines to see how sex offenders are tracked in other areas.

You can search for them by your address or your entire city, finding their home address, and even where they work.

But does knowing where a sex offender lives keep your family safe? At least one former judge doesn’t think so.

“People have a false sense of being protected. And it’s not,” said retired Van Buren Co. Judge William Buhl. “In my opinion it’s not protecting people.”

“It’s not risk based, it’s conviction based,” he said. “So nobody looks at the individuals and asks the question, should we really be afraid of this person?”

Take Robert Keith for example.

In December of 2013, he was charged with three counts of criminal sexual conduct in Kalamazoo County.

The 61-year-old was giving karate lessons at his home, and court documents show he was accused of inappropriately touching three teenage boys between 2009 and 2013 at his dojo on Nazareth Road.

Keith was already on the sex offender registry in Florida.

He was even designated as a predator, after being convicted in 1997 of three sex crimes on a victim under 12.

In Florida, he would have been held to higher standards, but in Michigan, Keith was only required to check in four times a year with police–which is the national standard.

“While he was on supervision and parole in Michigan, he couldn’t have contact,” Buhl said. “Once he was off parole, that was the end of it; he could do whatever he wanted, and he did and has new victims with the same modus operandi. That should never happen.”

Keith killed himself before he could stand trial.

His case is just one of the many across the country that has people calling for more restrictions beyond the registry.

Every state is required to publish the sex offender registry, and to make offenders on the highest tier level check in four times a year, but that’s the end of the federal law.

Some states do go beyond though.

Illinois has a sex offender management board to evaluate and give treatment. Florida has a designated predator title for those they believe could offend again. In Pennsylvania, they also have a sexual offender assessment board–or SOAB–to determine if an offender might break the law again.

“It’s comprised of, in Pennsylvania, is law enforcement officials, psychologists, things of that nature where this individual gets assessed by SOAB, and SOAB will then recommend whether or not this person should be a sexually violent predator,” explained Lieutenant Todd Harman, the Megan’s Law commander for the Pennsylvania State Police.

The public can then see who has been given that distinction.

“It means that they are more likely to repeat the offense and therefor are a bigger danger to the public,” Lt. Harman said.

In Pennsylvania, 1,151 sex offenders are considered violent predators.

Once out of prison, they are required to attend monthly counseling, on top of their check ins with police.

In Michigan, we follow all the federal guidelines for monitoring sex offenders. But State Police tell us that law doesn’t assess them.

“It’s important to realize while this law is required to keep track of these people, it’s not necessarily saying that they are going to re-offend,” said Lieutenant Dale Hinz, with the Michigan State Police.

Buhl says he believes only about 15 percent of our more than 40,000 registered sex offenders are dangerous and likely to repeat their crimes.

“Those people you need to work with them because they don’t go away,” he said.

He tells us effective monitoring and treatment of offenders would go a long way to keep situations like what is believed to have happened in Keith’s dojo from happening again.

Here in Michigan, most judges do order treatment while an offender is behind bars.

Changes to the registry here in Michigan, above the federal law, would have to come from Lansing.

We are taking this information to our local lawmakers to see what they think.

First video report: (NEWSCHANNEL 3) – We have an update now to a special report we brought you Wednesday night.
At 11:00 we looked into Michigan’s Sex Offender Registry after a retired judge told us the state needs to do more to assess and monitor potential dangerous offenders.
Jessica Wheeler took that information to local lawmakers and has their reaction to our special report Predator Alert in the video report above.
Follow up video report:

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