DENVER — Everyone loves a good list. At times, it seems the Internet exists solely to allow us to indulge in them.
We have Top 10 Vacation Destinations lists, Top 25 Restaurants in Denver lists, Top 25 Most Awkward Cat Sleeping Positions lists, and yes, even Top 7 Videos of Meteorologists Getting Owned lists (sorry, Dave Fraser and Jennifer Broome).
But what about a list of the Top 100 Most Wanted Sex Offenders in Colorado?
Yes, that list also exists. And yes, there is reason to suspect it is the most popular item on the website of the agency that created it, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
“We’ve been using our social media platforms to bring attention to the Most Wanted list,” said Susan Medina, Public Information Officer with the CBI. “And posts about the list have been the highest-viewed, highest-retweeted posts that we’ve put out there.”
The thing that sets this list apart from the others is that our obsession with this particular list didn’t just kill 15 minutes of our collective work days. Medina said it helped keep our community safe.
Last month, after receiving reports from citizens who called in after seeing the anonymous tip line attached to the Top 100 list, the CBI was able to assist three different law enforcement agencies in the arrest of members of the Top 100.
Which members? No. 62, Apolonio Florez (arrested by the Denver Police Department), No. 16, Eugene Parker (arrested by the Colorado State Patrol), and yes, even No. 1, Roger Price (arrested by the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office).
So whose idea was it to utilize our affinity for internet lists in an effort to serve the greater good? That would be Deputy Director of Investigations Steve Johnson and his investigations unit at the CBI.
Faced with a mountain of sex offenders who had been designated as needing to be brought into custody or compliance, Johnson said the Top 100 was born mostly as a tool to enlist the help of the community in combating a wide-scale issue.
“The unfortunate thing is that we need this list, but the fact is we do,” Johnson said. “Not only are there are enough offenders out of compliance that we can put 100 people on the list, we need to clear those 100 names so we can make room for the next 100.”
But how does an offender make the list? What determines an offender’s rank on it? Those are loaded questions, Johnson said, and dealt with by a team of CBI analysts, including one staffer who is dedicated to the list on a full-time basis.
Essentially, Johnson said, his team determines an offender’s inclusion and rank on the basis of seven factors:
- Criminal history
- Original offense
- Chances of re-offending
- Escape/flight risk
- Past crimes of violence
- Past weapons offenses
- Past crimes against children
Most of those criteria are based on quantifiable data. The one that isn’t is a sex offender’s chances of re-offending — also known as recidivism. To say there have been conflicting studies on the subject might be an understatement.
One long-term Canadian study suggested 88.3% of sex offenders are likely to re-offend. Wisconsin psychologist Dennis Doren suggested a recidivism rate of 52% among sex offenders was most reasonable. The Bureau of Justice Statistics produced a study that suggested sex offenders were less likely to be re-convicted on sex charges in the three years following their release than a group of all released prisoners — 24% compared to 47%.
Johnson said the recidivism algorithm created by his CBI team to assist in the creation of the Top 100 list draws on information produced by those three studies and a boatload of others.
“The bottom line,” Johnson said, “is that our analysts have determined every last one of the offenders on our Top 100 list are people that we feel fall into the at-risk category of re-offending.”
But what would Johnson say to someone who called the list nothing more than a trendy witch hunt aimed at smearing a group of people who may not actually be as dangerous to the community as the CBI’s analysts may believe?
“I would tell them that it’s important to remember that (this list) isn’t us taking punitive action against anyone; it’s just us trying to encourage compliance,” Johnson said. “The people on this list have gone out of compliance, and there’s a reason for that.
“This list is our effort to do something about it.”AlertMe