In general, Grits adores Tanya's work. Her oeuvre from the Dallas News was magnificent and her switch to TV at WFAA, along with another Morning News expat, producer Jason Trahan, immediately vaulted that station to boasting probably the best TV crime coverage in the state, IMHO. But here, the impulse to portray conflict on TV may have overcome better journalistic instincts. (It's apparently pretty easy to get cops, especially union officials, to say nasty things about the Dallas chief these days.) She essentially portrays an argument among cops (all the sources) on the cops' narrow terms of debate.
What the article didn't address is whether enforcing registry conditions on this group is a truly useful way for DPD officers to spend their time. Chief Brown says he will deploy those detectives to a "violent crimes task force." Mightn't that be a better use of their time from a risk-cost-safety perspective?
To explore that question, there are other sources one could have gone to, as a news reporter from Pennsylvania demonstrated this week in an article titled, "When facts aren't facts: A look at the effectiveness of sex offender registries." That scrivener spoke with a state anti-rape advocate who downplayed their effectiveness, then asked an academic about research on their public safety effect:
“If you ask people how often sex offenders will commit a new offense when released into the community, people tend to think it’s upwards of 75 percent,” said University of Massachusetts Professor Jason Rydberg, who focuses on the study of sexual offenders and policy.In light of such low recidivism rates, scaling back police visits to registrants to only those assessed as high risk, for example, then aiming detectives' work time instead toward following leads and investigating violent offenses which actually have already occurred, makes all sorts of sense. In fact, in the examples of the unit's successes listed in WFAA's report (got a tip, anonymous complaint, suspected of a crime), investigators could and likely would have followed up, anyway. That doesn't argue for continuous supervision of lower-risk registrants for whom they don't have a particular reason to investigate.
However, overwhelming research has shown that sexual offenders, as a whole, are some of the least likely groups to commit new crimes, Rydberg said.
Rydberg said one major study found that only about 5 percent of sexual offenders committed a new sexual crime within five years. The U.S. Department of Justice places the re-offense rate for sexual offenders in the 3 to 10 percent range, and a study conducted by Karl Hanson found that out of 8,000 offenders that were tracked, none who remained offense-free for 15 years were likely to reoffend after.
To put the threat posed by sexual offenders committing new offenses in perspective, a 2014 study found that roughly 3 percent of felons with no known history of sexual offenses committed one within roughly five years.
“People tend to be skeptical that sex offenders are amenable to treatment, and this is related to supporting punitive policies against them,” Rydberg said. “With this issue too, research combining dozens of studies and tens of thousands of sex offenders finds that certain types of treatment are effective at reducing the likelihood of sexual recidivism.”
The issue here is similar to sending officers to react to home burglar alarms, which are false up to 99 percent of the time. There's no rational, math-based public-safety argument for expending 10 percent of patrol officers' time on that worthless endeavor, but the alarm companies activate their customers with scare tactics aimed at the city council if anyone proposes eliminating that corporate subsidy, so that's off the table too.
DPD management wants to direct more resources towards investigating serious crime while spending less officer time doing things that don't matter. That should not be controversial. But jaundiced opponents (in this case the police unions) are more than willing to give reporters a sound-bite saying it would be "tragic" for "young children in the city," and here we go, math and reason be damned. Welcome to the culture wars!
Chief Brown made a perfectly sensible decision to reassign detectives who've been spending their days enforcing sex-offender registry conditions to investigate more serious crime. It's possible that politics and media pressure could make cutting this unit a political non-starter, just like burglar alarms. But at some point the question arises, how many low-margin activities must police management staff up before it becomes okay to deploy resources toward combating more serious offenses?
See related Grits commentary: "Lazy reporters are main constituency for sex-offender registry."