The recent arrest of a convicted sexual predator who crossed into Washington from Canada has raised plenty of questions about where sex offenders go when they're no longer behind bars, and who's watching them.
When Michael Sean Stanley first came to Seattle, he registered at an address at Second and Yesler streets. He was soon told that sex offenders cannot live in that building, so Stanley then registered as homeless and lived on the streets until he was arrested four days later on suspicion of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old boy.
Now KIRO 7 discovered Pioneer Square is home to a staggering number of registered sex offenders. More than 140 Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders, the ones considered "more likely" and the "most likely" to reoffend, call Seattle's Pioneer Square home. All of them live within a quarter-mile radius of Occidental Park. Dozens of them are homeless, as Stanley was.
Steve Gahler is president of Portent, Inc, an Internet marketing company headquartered in the Smith Tower at Second and Yesler streets. He told KIRO 7 reporter Amy Clancy that many of his 50 employees "are a little anxious when they leave the building."
Gahler was concerned about his employees' safety even before he learned that Pioneer Square is home to so many Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders. He's even more concerned now.
"It's dark at 4:40, and people aren't going home until 5, 6, 7 o'clock at night. It's a scary place to be," Gahler told Clancy. "I will say this, once it gets to be 8, 9 o'clock at night, people don't like to hang around Pioneer Square."
KIRO 7 found that homeless sex offenders like Stanley must check in with detectives once a week. In King County, that office is on the second floor of the courthouse, just two blocks from Pioneer Square.
Sgt. Cindi West of the King County Sheriff's Office believes that's why so many sex offenders are so close.
"I don't think I realized until this case came up with Stanley about how much the public really didn't know about what actually happens with sex offenders," she said.
Registered sex offenders with a valid address must check in a few times per year with law enforcement, but they're not followed by police, they're not under surveillance, and they don't have tracking devices.
Both West and Dawn Larsen of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs think the public's best way to stay safe is to stay informed. For nearly 10 years, WASPC has helped sponsor a website, sheriffalerts.com, at which people can enter an address and instantly learn not only where registered sex offenders are living, but what they look like and what crimes they have committed.
More than 600,000 Washington state residents have clicked on the website in 2013. Most of those web visitors check out sex offenders in their neighborhoods. But people Gahler believe, sex offenders near the workplace should be looked up too.
In downtown Tacoma, there are 134 registered sex offenders within a 2-mile radius. In downtown Everett, there are 76 within a 2-mile radius. In downtown Seattle, there are 325 also within a 2-mile radius; nearly half of them within a quarter-mile radius of Pioneer Square.
"Many, many seem to migrate to cities, to areas where they can be a little more anonymous, where they can try to find housing, where they can find jobs," Larson said. "The more stable they are, in a community with jobs and housing, the less likely they are to re-offend. But finding housing is obviously very difficult."
If you want to know whether a sex offender has moved in near your downtown workplace, or your home or child's day care, www.sheriffalerts.com has a new feature that will send you an email notification. But so far, only 2 percent of Washington state residents have signed up for this free service.
"We would like people to register," Larsen said. "I think it's the best way now for people to get that information."
However, both Larsen and West warn not to rely too much on sex crimes of the past.
"Even knowing that we have hundreds of sex offenders in this county, how many people are sex offenders that have not been caught yet? I would say, that's the biggest fear," West said.
Larson adds that 85-90 percent of children who are sexually assaulted are abused by somebody they know, somebody their parents know or somebody they see on a regular basis, not by strangers.
She said knowing where registered sex offenders are provides parents an opportunity to talk with their children about personal safety issues, but "the reality is, if your child is going to be sexually abused it's probably going to be by someone you know already, not somebody you see on a website."
Follow this link to get an email alert when a sex offender moves hear your home or workplace.