Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Action Item: Is the Virginia State Police Limiting Access in Your District to Register, Re-Register or Update Mandated Information (in Time) as Required by Virginia Law?

(See Action Item Post above/dated May 20, 2015 as follow up to this post)

Dear Followers, 

See the sign above? I need to know if your Virginia State Police (VSP) location has a similar policy. 

If it does please send me the following:
  1. The physical address of the location
  2. What hours are listed as open for the appointments/registrations?
  3. Approximately when (Month and Year) did they begin this practice?
  4. How did you learn of this new policy? 
    • In person when you went to the Barracks to register? If so were you turned away that day or did they take your update?
    • In person during a home compliance check by your Compliance Officer?
    • In writing? If so via mail? Handed a letter?  If, so do you still have a copy?
  5. Have you experienced any delays in getting your information updated within the 3 day or 30 minute window (per Virginia law) because there were no openings for an appointment even though you were ready to travel to the VSP Barracks?
Any information you send me will remain anonymous and unspecific. 

I was recently advised that the Virginia State Police location on Newtown Rd (Norfolk) had a sign posted for Registered Sex Offenders who needed to register that walk-in’s were no longer an option and they must be scheduled ahead of time, with their VSP Compliance Officer. All Sex Offender Registry (SOR) updates must be “by appointment”…… to register, re-register or update information with your assigned VSP Compliance Officer. I was advised that this sign has been up for OVER 1 year. That RSO’s received no advanced notice (by phone, via mail or in-person) of the change and in fact some/many of them didn’t even know who their Compliance Officer was when the sign went up. And since the sign has gone up RSO’s who have needed an appointment within 30 minutes or less than 3 days even when they’ve told their Compliance Officer the change needs to made that day or by a certain day to comply with Virginia law they are still given an appointment days later…..AFTER the RSO’s legal requirement. Who might suffer consequences from this? The RSO, that’s who and that, is unacceptable! 

I happened to be in Hampton Roads today so I decided to stop by 2 VSP Locations to see if it was a one-off issue or across the board.
I stopped by the 6387 Center Drive, Building 2 Suite 1 Norfolk 23502 VSP location at 11AM today. 

Per the sign I knocked. A male answered the door in street clothes and with no name tag. I asked him how long the “by appointment” sign/policy had had been in effect, he said he wasn’t the person to ask. I asked him to please get the appropriate person then. He advised me there was no VSP Trooper or Compliance Officer in the office to answer any Sex Offender questions. I asked him then if I was a registrant who needed to register by law TODAY no one here would be able to advise me of what I am required to do or to take my information, he didn’t want to answer my question, hemming and-hawing. I then asked why RSO’s could only schedule appointments from 9AM to 3PM when the VSP Barracks are opened 8:30AM to 4PM; he again avoided answering my question. So I asked, when would someone be in the office today that could answer Sex Offender questions, he said he didn’t know. I then asked who was in charge of that office he advised me it was 1st Sergeant _________ and gave me a phone number. I then asked the Trooper who claimed he was on his day off and never offered me his name…..so if I called this number you just gave me to speak to 1st Sergeant _________, he interrupted me and pointed to the phone on the other side of the room and said it will ring here. So I said then calling this number right now doesn’t really do me any good, does it? I then began leaving the Newtown Rd location but stopped after seeing a Trooper in the parking lot (who was not a SOR Trooper) and I asked him what he thought of the “by appointment” policy when Virginia law allows an RSO just 30 minutes to register email changes, he seemed shocked that the law is 30 minutes and that no one was at the location at 11AM on a Tuesday to allow RSO’s to comply with State law. 

I then drove 20 minutes to the 1557 S. Military Hwy Chesapeake 23320 VSP Barracks. 

I walked in at 11:20AM and found a more permanent sign (I have a photo if anyone would like it) about Sex Offender Registration stating it’s done 9AM to 4:30PM. This location started later than their opening hours but at least that lost 30 minutes was added to the back end, unlike Newton Rd.  

This sign DID NOT say ANYTHING about having an appointment but I went ahead and asked the lady behind the Plexiglas partition about Registration updates for RSO’s.  

It turned out she is a VSP Compliance Officer, __________. Ms. _________ informed me that ALL VSP Division 5 Locations require appointments for RSO’s to register information now. I asked when this change in VSP Policy was implemented and she said that it’s not a “written policy”. 

I said to Ms. _________ “but Virginia law requires 30 minutes for email changes, so if an RSO calls their Compliance Officer (CO), leaves a voice message and the Officer is off that day or doesn’t check their messages for a few hours the RSO is already in violation”. She said their C.O. might make notes in the computer about the message until an appointment is made. That doesn’t help the RSO who could be facing a felony for not doing the required paperwork in person (which requires thumbprints and a signature to be valid). In essence the enactment of the policy makes the VSP complicit in the commission of a felony. 

I then said to Ms. _________, what if a RSO loses their job Thursday, they plan on coming in Friday to update their information as unemployed but they need to make an appointment and their Compliance Officer doesn’t call them back before the end of the day. Monday is Memorial Day, so Tuesday would be the first available day the RSO can get in to update his information (which requires thumbprints and a signature to be valid), what if the CO has taken Friday off for a 4 day holiday and that’s the only person the RSO has been instructed to contact for registrations, she shook her head in agreement. Once again, enactment of the policy makes the VSP complicit in the commission of a felony.

Regardless of this, you need to understand the burden ALL falls on the RSO, for an unwritten/unknown VSP Policy that may make the VSP Compliance Officers life easier but will result in Failure-to-Register that should have NEVER occurred. 

So I thanked Ms. _________ for her time and went out to my car. 

I didn’t call 1st Sergeant _________ who wasn’t in the office when I stopped by Newtown Rd; I called the VSP Sex Offender Hotline. I asked the operator who answered (and she was extremely polite and professional) how long have the Hampton Roads Barracks been requiring RSO’s to make an appointment to register, she had no idea about the policy and transferred me to  a different 1st Sergeant, well call him 1st Sergeant P. 

I filled 1st Sergeant P. in on what I had learned that morning. 

10 minutes later I had 1st Sergeant P. reassurances that this issue would be taken care of immediately. I thanked him but told him I would still be sending this email off not because I didn’t take his word but because the Legislators, the Administration and the VSP Leadership needs to understand that limiting access to RSO’s might look good on paper for the VSP employees but not for Virginia as a whole. Virginia is adding 800 to 1,200 additional Virginians to the VSP Registry every year and the Legislators are expanding what data is required and how often the information needs to be updated by statute, so the VSP can not be creating new policy that seriously conflicts with the ability of RSO’s to comply with these ever changing laws. 

My household has personally experienced an annual VSP Re-registration certified letter arriving with less than 5 days to comply and 2 of those 5 days were a weekend. Most RSO’s receive 4 letters per year, scheduling an appointment doesn’t work! 

Let me give you one more example of how this VSP “by appointment” policy doesn’t work in the real world. 

If a defendant in a Virginia Court takes a plea deal today for a misdemeanor that requires them to register as a Sex Offender they have 3 days (not 3 business days) to register. They could very likely show up at a VSP Barracks in Hampton Roads this Friday afternoon after looking online for the VSP Barack hours, not seeing a “by appointment” notice anywhere when they arrive at Newtown Rd there would not be ANY VSP Employee that could take their information, take their DNA, take their photograph or their fingerprints. They also do not have an assigned Compliance Officer yet. Remember this Monday is Memorial Day so if they have to wait until Tuesday to call the office to schedule an appointment, Tuesday would be 4 days past-due per Virginia law. Would this Virginian who showed up ready to register on Friday (within 3 days of the courts instruction and per law) to a location that was unstaffed face charges for failing to register? I wonder. 

I also wonder what other VSP Divisions have reduced their hours for Sex Offender Registration or have portions of the day or entire days when there is NO staff on hand that can answer a SOR question, take updates or perhaps have also implemented a “by appointment” policy.  

Unless Virginia Legislators rewrite Virginia law in 2016 (eliminating or expanding the 3 days and 30 minutes), the VSP can not require a “by appointment” policy further limiting access (days and times) RSO’s have to comply. 

If this is a result of the transition from VSP Troopers to VSP Compliance Officers for the SOR from 2012, then the Virginia Legislators need to find the money and get Troopers back in the Barracks and doing the residence checks and that’s what I’ve suggested to them in an earlier email. 

Mary Devoy