ALPENA — Federally-ordered changes to the Michigan Sex Offender Registry are causing confusion on the local level.
Last week, the Michigan State Police sent people on the registry a letter explaining changes in reporting requirements. The changes became official on March 24 after a several-year effort to overhaul the registry, which was declared unconstitutional in 2016.
In December, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed amended legislation that changed what information some registrants have to report, where they can live, and how their information is shared with the public.
Since letters arrived in registrants’ mailboxes, the Michigan State Police-Alpena Post has been flooded with people asking what the new rules mean — and local police aren’t entirely equipped to answer their questions, according to Sgt. Shane Smith, of the Alpena post.
The five-page letter contains detailed reporting guidelines and changes.
According to the revised rules detailed in the five-page letter, registered sex offenders are no longer prohibited from living, working, or loitering within school safety zones of 1,000 feet of school property.
People whose crimes were committed before July 1, 2011 no longer have to report changes to their email addresses or internet handles. All registrants still have to report and update an extensive list of personal details, including nicknames, social security and driver’s license numbers, addresses and phone numbers, employer information, and complete physical description.
Homeless people are not required to maintain a drivers’ license or state identification card under the new rules, and young offenders who have been granted a certain status don’t have to register as long as they successfully complete probation.
The revised registry rules eliminate certain information that was previously posted on the registry’s public website, including tier classifications, which reflect the severity of the crime for which registrants have been convicted. The database still lists specific crime categories for each registrant.
Registrants who have had their convictions expunged may have their name removed from the registry, according to the letter, which directs registrants to go to their local state police post for help.
Such directions are causing headaches for local police, Smith said.
With the information as new to him as it is to registrants, he doesn’t always have the answer when they come in with questions about the new rules.
Earlier this week, a woman whose conviction had been expunged followed the orders in the letter and came to Smith to have her name removed from the registry.
Some 45 minutes later, after an extensive effort to fulfil her request, Smith discovered her name had already been removed at the state level.
Registrants may need to read their letters two or three times to understand the new regulations, Smith advised — and, when asking for clarification from police, they may need to be patient.
“Don’t raise your voice,” Smith said. “Don’t get upset. We’re in the same boat, trying to figure this out.”
Currently, about 300 active registered offenders live in Northeast Michigan, according to the registry’s public database.
For part of 2020, police were ordered to suspend enforcement of the registry as the state battled the coronavirus. The pandemic slowed the already slow process of revamping the law, which a federal judge said had to be fixed or thrown out by May 2020.
That deadline was extended multiple times. Michigan legislators finally passed a new version of the act on December 31.
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