CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) – Wyoming, with its wide-open spaces and crisp, clear vistas, is starting to worry it has made itself too attractive in one respect: Convicted sex offenders from out of state are moving in, apparently because the laws are less restrictive.
“We don’t want to become the playground for sex offenders,” Attorney General Pat Crank said. “But there must be something that sex offenders are seeing. Otherwise they wouldn’t be moving here in the kind of numbers that we seem to be seeing.”
Wyoming is home to about 1,200 known sex offenders. That is not a large number for such a sparsely populated state. But law enforcement officials and legislators are worried because 56 percent of those offenders moved to Wyoming after being convicted somewhere else.
Afraid that the word is out among ex-convicts that Wyoming has some of the nation’s loosest restrictions on sex offenders, state legislators are rushing to tighten the laws, and they are meeting little resistance.
“We’re going to make it so there’s no place for them to hide,” vowed Republican Rep. Ed Buchanan, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
While other states often prohibit sex offenders from living near schools, daycare centers or other places with children, Wyoming has no such laws.
“They can live right next to a school if they want to. They can live in a home with children if they want to,” said Laramie County sheriff’s Sgt. Linda Gesell.
Also, unlike many other states, Wyoming does not require people convicted of indecent exposure or sexual battery to register as sex offenders. In addition, ex-convicts who are deemed low- and medium-risk offenders are not listed on the state’s publicly accessible Web site.
Gary Smith, a 29-year-old cook in Cheyenne, left Wyoming for Oklahoma after serving about four years in prison for having sex with a 15-year-old girl. A few months later, a neighbor posted fliers in Smith’s trailer park showing his criminal record, which had been taken from an Oklahoma Web site on registered sex offenders.
Smith and his wife quickly headed back to Wyoming. Although he is a registered sex offender here, he is not listed on public databases because authorities do not consider him at high risk of committing another crime. Smith is glad the state does not call attention to his conviction.