GBI Director: No money to make HB1059-compliant sex offender registry changes

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October 26, 2006

Something as simple as a picture could be the difference in how Georgia's new sex offender registry is working.

But more and more offenders are able to hide in plain sight because of a flaw in the system.

Did lawmakers put any money behind enforcing the new rules?

How are you supposed to know if a sex offender--a child molester or rapist or predator--is living near you?

The state recommends you check the Georgia sex offender registry online. It's a site getting hundreds of thousands of hits a month.

But News 12 uncovers a big hole in the registry--one that the governor's office has been warned about by the GBI director himself.

There are big problems with the GBI sex offender registry.

A year ago, we found that convicted child molester Christopher Marshall Banks was teaching karate to children. His photo was absent from the website.

Back then the GBI admitted about one in ten offenders didn't have their photos on the website.

"We've been adding photographs since the year 2000," John Bankhead of the GBI told us in November of 2004. "Now we have almost 90% with photos on our website."

Though it's better now, it's still not 100 percent.

It's something we showed to victims advocate Barbara Miller. Gov. Sonny Perdue just named Miller to the board that decides just how dangerous recently released sex offenders are to us.

We showed Miller the GBI registry for Burke and Lincoln County offenders.

We found dozens of sex offenders, from rapists to child molesters, with their pictures missing.

"In my opinion it's absolutely not acceptable, with the technology available to us," Miller said.

"Is this a huge letdown for victims?" we asked.

"It's a failing," Miller said. "A huge failing."

But perhaps the biggest failing is that while making the state laws tougher on offenders, lawmakers haven't provided the money to back it up. Or so says GBI director Vernon Keenan.

In an August letter obtained by News 12, Director Keenan tells the governor's office his agency is now required to make changes to the sex offender database, including additional descriptive data on offenders, vehicle information, and permanent and temporary addresses.

Director Keenan says with the change in law keeping offenders on the registry for life now, the number of offenders will nearly double in the next four years.

And he says, "No funding was provided by the general assembly and the GBI does not have the resources necessary"--meaning he doesn't have the staff or the equipment to keep up.

We brought the situation to Miller's attention.

"It's so obvious they're all for protecting children in this state now, why wouldn't they fund it?" she said. "That's very worrisome."

And if Miller gets a chance to get the governor's ear on this?

"I'm going to say, 'Let's get out the Sonny Do list.'"

News 12 wanted Gov. Sonny Perdue's reaction to this story. We asked his office about the money the GBI director asked for in his letter.

Through a spokeswoman, his office tells News 12: "We feel confident that we will be able to equip the GBI with the necessary tools to perform their law enforcement duties according to this legislation."

The House representative who sponsored the bill, Jerry Keen of St. Simon's, told News 12:

"HB 1059 was not passed until the last day of the session, after the budget had already been worked on and passed....We have a midterm adjustment the first of January, and we have said all along that whatever resources are necessary will be appropriated. I am confident that when we return in January the funds will be available immediately. That is what we planned and said from Day 1."

More Information

GBI Director Victor Keenan's letter to the Governor's Office

Proposed costs for updating the GBI sex offender registry