Earlier this month the Bristol Police Department was surprised to learn a man on probation for raping a child had been living in the village, a short distance from the school and a daycare, since October.
In 2006, Mark Hulett admitted to repeatedly raping a young girl over a four-year period, beginning when she was 6 years old. After serving his prison sentence Hulett was placed on probation and on the Vermont Sex Offender Registry, but the community wasn't made aware of his presence for months.
According to a post by Bristol Police Chief Kevin Gibbs on the department's Facebook page, Hulett has since moved out of his Bristol village apartment. But his move hasn't alleviated residents' concerns about the effectiveness of the state's sex offender registry. To address those concerns, the Bristol Police Department is hosting a public forum on March 30 about Vermont's sex offender registration process.
"Attendees will be advised how the system currently works, who is placed on the registry, how the public is informed and what Bristol Police has done and will do to ensure offenders living in Bristol are in compliance with all applicable laws," a forum announcement from the police department states. "It is our hope to have a civil and respectful discussion on the issue and take input from residents in our effort to address some concerns and strengthen current laws and practices in offender registry compliance."
When a sex offender is released from jail in Vermont, he or she must comply with the requirements of the Vermont Sex Offender Registry for at least 10 years. Those requirements include notifying authorities of their current address, if they are living with a child, and where they are working or going to school. Convicted sex offenders are not required to disclose their conviction to neighbors, landlords or employers.
Local law enforcement agencies play a limited role in keeping tabs on sex offenders who have completed their sentences. In Hulett's case, according to a story aired on WCAX, his probation officer approved his housing in Bristol. And because he is on probation, local law enforcement would typically be notified and perform routine compliance checks.
Bristol isn't the only town making its citizens aware of how to use the state's online sex offender registry. Across the state in Norwich on Wednesday, Police Chief Douglas Robinson sent out this note to the town's email listserv:
I would like to remind everyone that there is a public Sex Offender Registry that the public has access to. You can reach the registry by http://vcic.vermont.gov/home then click on Sex Offender Registry and follow the links. There is no charge to check out the registry although there are some rules that you will have to agree to before you can proceed. Please check out the registry for your area at any time.
How to navigate the registry, along with the shortcomings of the system, will likely be topics of discussion at next week's public forum in Bristol. The forum will begin at 6 p.m. on March 30, at the Bristol Elementary School.