Gaps on the Map

By Tom Kuglin

In an effort to make its sexual and violent offender registry more accessible to the public, the Montana Department of Justice (DOJ) launched a new website in October. Yet the new site may still cause confusion for users unfamiliar with how authorities classify offenders.

According to the department, individuals may fall out of compliance in two ways: not registering at all or not having a current verified address.

But numbers for these ex-cons can vary widely depending on which feature of the site is used.

The homepage provides a search tool for “ALL” non-compliant offenders statewide. At the time MJR went to print, that number was 106.

However, using the interactive mapping feature to search records by location nets much higher numbers. Billings alone listed over 170 as non-compliant.

The reason for the discrepancy: The 106 only covers individuals with unknown whereabouts, not offenders with lapsed verification — a distinction not mentioned on the site.

In August, the Associated Press revealed the addresses of one in eight offenders were unknown. That figure can vary daily, DOJ Deputy Communications Director Anastasia Burton said, noting that the number had dipped to one in 10.

Hoping to keep that number down, the department added two investigators tasked with finding non-compliant offenders. As law enforcement continues to track sex offenders around the state, journalists will certainly be out there keeping the public aware of the situation.