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Robert Baca

Level 3 sex offender notification meeting held in Detroit Lakes

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DETROIT LAKES - For the first time since legislation was passed over 10 years ago, allowing law enforcement officials to notify the general public about a Level 3 predatory offender moving to town, Detroit Lakes is seeing its first.

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Monday evening, the Detroit Lakes Police Department and the Minnesota Department of Corrections hosted a public awareness meeting about Level 3 offender Robert Baca, 44. He was released from prison today and checked into the Detroit Lakes Police Station about 12:30 p.m. He arrived by bus, after declaring his intention to move back to the Detroit Lakes area. He served his 111-month term for raping an adult woman in 1996.

Department of Corrections Agent Michele Murphy, who travels throughout the state giving presentations on community notification, told an audience of about 50 people Monday night that although she was there to share information on Baca, all energy should not be focused on him either.

It's not just Detroit Lakes, Becker County or Minnesota, she said, predatory offenders are a global issue.

"We handle a pretty good caseload (of predatory offenders) the last several years, but this is the first time a Level 3 was released in our community," Detroit Lakes Police Chef Kel Keena said.

Baca specifically

In 1996, Baca was convicted of second-degree criminal sexual contact. He did not know his victim, Murphy said. Prior information released said he did know the woman, but she assured audience members he did not know her.

Baca was sentenced to 111 months in prison for the rape and was released Nov. 18, 2003, as a Level 2. Offenders serve 2/3 of a sentence in prison and the remaining 1/3 is served on intensive suspended release, she explained. Baca was required during this time to have four face-to-face meetings a month with law enforcement officials.

On Dec. 11, 2003, his release was revoked for failure to comply with his release terms. He was sent back to prison for failing house arrest and using an intoxicant.

After completing his sentence, he was released today (Tuesday) and no longer has any terms of suspension.

"He has served his sentence, so there are no restrictions on his release," Murphy said.

He must check in with law enforcement until Nov. 17, 2018, though and make them aware of his address, if he goes to school, where he works and any changes in his appearance.

If Baca should fail to register, Keena said the police department would notify the BCA and a warrant for his arrest would be issued.

Baca is listed as homeless at this point, but Keena said that will change when he "tries to rent something like anyone else."

He doesn't have family in the area, so he didn't have an address to list right away.

Although he didn't have a specific destination, Keena pointed out, "doesn't mean he's penniless."

Although the police will not send out notices of his new address, the public can view changes to his profile, including if he leaves town, on the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Web site. (Web site addresses are listed below.)

Murphy explained that due to data privacy laws, not all the information the law enforcement has on Baca is general information. For instance, she said, if he would move to 1493 Smith Avenue, it would be released that he lives on the 1400 block of Smith Avenue.

"We have a different level (of knowledge) of his plans than is public," Keena said.

During the public meeting, a member of the audience said Baca had a distinguishing four-leaf clover tattoo, but Murphy was unable to verify that. She said, though, that the community notification meetings were useful because not only what the Department of Corrections can share with the public, the public can share information amongst themselves as well.

Assigned a level

The way it works is prior to an offender being released from prison, he must meet with an End of Confinement Period Committee. The committee consists of five people with different backgrounds to learn everything about the inmate and then determine individually what risk level he or she would assign the offender.

The group then meets and votes on what level they think the offender should be, with the majority winning. The offender and a lawyer may be present at that time to answer or clarify any questions.

The level the offender is assigned determines his risk likelihood to repeat and the amount of notification that can be sent out upon his release.

Level 1 offenders are the least likely to re-offend. When they are released from prison, law enforcement is only allowed to notify other law enforcement and the victim.

Level 2 is for moderate risk offenders, and besides other officers and the victim, law enforcement is allowed to notify establishments that could be a risk. For example, if the offender was doing time for attacking a child, law enforcement can notify schools, churches, daycares, anywhere with children.

Level 3 is the highest risk level and the highest risk of re-offending. In those cases is when law enforcement can notify the general public.

And while being awarded Level 3 status, Murphy said, "There is no way we can determine how someone will act."

As of July 2, 2008, nationwide, there were 5,462 offenders assigned a level. Level 1 made up 60 percent, Level 2 is 26 percent, and Level 3 is 14 percent. In Minnesota, there are 141 Level 3 sex offenders. Fifty-four of them are on supervised probation, and the remaining 87 are not.

Baca is not on probation. Since he served his full sentence, he has no restrictions. Due to registering as a sex offender though, he does have to check in with law enforcement every week.

While Baca is the first Level 3 offender in Detroit Lakes, he isn't the first sex offender. There are 49 registered predatory offenders in Detroit Lakes and 87 in Becker County. There are 14,000 predatory offenders registered in Minnesota.

Murphy said Becker County is about average in the region when it comes to registered offenders. For example, Mahnomen County has 27, Wadena County has 47 and Ottertail County has 131.

What's expected

Within 24 hours of his release from prison in Rush City, Minn., Baca was required to check-in with law enforcement. Whether he made it to Detroit Lakes or not, he would have been required to check in at some city within 24 hours. That department will then contact the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

Offenders must make law enforcement officials aware of vehicles he will be driving, address, school if he's attending, work and supply pictures of himself if there are any significant changes in appearance.

Some statistics

According to a 10-minute video courtesy of the Jacob Wetterling Foundation that was shown at the start of the meeting, released offenders make up less than 10 percent of those that cause sexual harm.

Sex offenders, or predatory offenders as they are now called, have always been released into communities, but it's just in the last 11 years (since the law went into effect Jan. 1, 1997) that law enforcement has been allowed to notify the public. That is thanks to Megan's Law, named for Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old New Jersey girl who was kidnapped, raped and murdered by a repeat offender.

Ninety-three percent of offenders are known to the family. More statistics can be seen at www.jwrc.org.

Also, 90 percent of those who sexually abuse children are not abused by someone on the predatory offender list.

Two-thirds of victims are under the age of 18, and 86 percent of all victims are female.

The good news is though that the number of re-offenders is going down, Murphy said.

"What that suggests it that we're doing something right in Minnesota," she said.

What to do

"I don't want you to walk out (of the community notification meeting) feeling hopeless like there's nothing you can do," Murphy said. "There's lots you can do."

Sharing information is key. Understanding is also.

She said that everyone in life needs stability and an offender is no different. He or she needs the stability of work, home, relationships, etc. to feel stable and not want to commit a crime again.

Helpful resources

- Detroit Lakes Police Department, 847-4222

- Becker County Sheriff's Office, 847-2661

- www.bca.sttae.mn.us/bca.asp

- www.doc.state.mn.us

- www.nsopr.gov

- www.corr.state.mn.us

- www.ci.detroit-lakes.mn.us

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