Harry Berlin has never committed a crime in his life. But each time the TV news mentions Las Vegas’ online registry of sex offenders, the 71-year-old is harassed and threatened by his neighbors. As the Las Vegas Sun reported in December, Berlin’s address is erroneously listed as the residence of Christopher Risdon, who was convicted of child pornography charges.
The Nevada Public Safety Commission’s website includes searchable maps showing where the state’s registered sex offenders live. The city of Las Vegas has its own site, set up with a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. Both sites rely on information from sex offenders themselves—people who may not be terribly vigilant about keeping their addresses up to date with the authorities.
When Berlin asked city officials to correct their records, they told him to file a complaint with the agency that runs the state database. When he went to the state, it told him to go back to the city. City police say they aren’t to blame, because they include a disclaimer on the website stating it shouldn’t be used to harass or intimidate sex offenders. They also say the website explains that addresses are provided by offenders themselves, which implies they may not always be accurate.
Perhaps Berlin should consider himself lucky. Last November, Michael A. Dodele, just released after serving time for sexual assaults on two women, was stabbed to death in his home. Police arrested a man who had been telling neighbors he saw Dodele’s name and address on a sex offender list; the suspect’s wife says they have a child who was molested and were worried about a sex offender living nearby. Sex offender registries also played a role in the vigilante murders of two men in Maine in April 2007 and two more in Washington state in 2005.