Sex offender living on street shocks neighbors: How to keep tabs on them

Thomas Baker / File photo

Folks along Edgewood Avenue in Syracuse are still shocked today about the man accused of luring a 9-year-old girl from her bedroom in the middle of the night. Not only are they stunned by the charges against their neighbor, but that a Level 3 sex offender, the most dangerous kind, was living among them. It's a dark past many of them never knew.

54-year-old Thomas Lee Baker is in jail now charged with kidnapping and attempted rape. Legally, he's been down this road before having been convicted of sexually abusing a 20-year-old woman back in 1991. He spent time in prison for that, and at some point, ended up in a home on Edgewood Avenue.

Being a convicted Level 3 sex offender, by law, he must register with the state. The Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) is then responsible for keeping a picture of him posted online along with the crime he committed so wherever he goes, the public knows who he is and what he's done.

But unless people know where to look, these sex offenders can sometimes go unnoticed.

"It's kind of scary because sometimes I leave my kids here," Ayen Ajak, who has family in the neighborhood, told CNY Central after Baker's arrest. "You never know what people are hiding."

Have you ever searched the database to find out whether sex offenders live in your neighborhood?

DCJS is the state agency responsible for maintaining New York's Sex Offender Registry, which provides New Yorkers information about sex offenders living in their communities.

There are three levels of sex offenders -- Level 1 (low risk), Level 2 (medium risk) and Level 3 (high risk). By law, only Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders are listed on this site.

Level 1 offenders are required to register for a minimum of 20 years. Level 2 and 3 offenders are on the list for life.

Local police can also release the information to 'entities with vulnerable populations' like schools, nursing homes or day care centers.

Click here to sign up for sex offender relocation email alerts.

If you sign up for the alerts, you'll get an email whenever a Level 2 or 3 sex offender on the registry moves into or out of your neighborhood. You can also get the information by calling (518) 457-5837 or (800) 262-3257.

Recently the State Senate and Assembly passed a bill, sponsored by Senator John DeFrancisco, that would require the registry to collect more information from sex offenders, including the type of supervision the offender receives. The bill is currently awaiting the Governor's signature.

Here in New York, we also have the Office of Sex Offender Management (OSOM), which oversees the registry. It's the one statewide office solely responsible for sex offender management.

Click here to search the registry.

New York's Sex Offender Registration Act became law on January 21, 1996. It requires those convicted of a sex offense to register with the state after getting out of jail. This includes convicts from out of state who move into New York. In fact, any offender who's moved to New York from another state or country must register with New York no later than 10 days after moving.

Aside from the three levels (1, 2 and 3), there are also three designations that may be assigned to a sex offender: sexual predator, sexually violent offender, or predicate sex offender. These designations, along with risk level, govern the length of time that an offender must register.

A sexual predator is someone who's been convicted of a sexually violent offense and who suffers from a mental abnormality or personality disorder that makes him or her likely to engage in predatory sexually violent offenses.

A sexually violent offender is someone who's been convicted of a sexually violent offense.

A predicate sex offender is someone who's been convicted of a sex offense when they've previously been convicted of a sex crime.

Here's what sex offenders are required to do based on New York State law:

- Report annually where they live by signing and returning an annual verification form to DCJS within 10 days after receiving it.

- Notify DCJS in writing of a new address no later than 10 days after moving.

- Report in person to a local police agency to have a current photograph taken every three years (Level 1 and 2 offenders) or every year (Level 3 offenders).

- Notify DCJS in writing of any institution of higher education they are attending, enrolled, living or employed. Any change in status must be reported to DCJS no later than 10 days after the change.

- Provide in writing Internet service providers, Internet screen names and e-mail accounts. More information2.

- Level 3 offenders and offenders with a sexual predator designation must personally verify their addresses every 90 days with law enforcement.

- Only Level 3 offenders have an obligation to provide the name and address of their employer. Any changes in employment must be sent to DCJS in writing and be signed by the offender.

Failure to comply with these requirements would land them in even more trouble, facing felony charges. One might wonder, what how many sex offenders aren't registering with the state? What can be done to protect the public from offenders roaming the streets unchecked? Do you think there's a better way to make sure all sex offenders are monitored?

The current law does not restrict where a registered sex offender can live, but if the offender is under parole or probation supervision, other laws may limit the offender from living within 1,000 feet of a school or other facility caring for children.

By law, many employers are required to obtain fingerprints and do background checks for certain occupations like teachers or school bus drivers. If someone's been convicted of certain crimes, they will not be hired. The law also bars sex offenders from working on an ice cream truck.

Read myths and facts about sex offenders.

It should come as no surprise to folks along Edgewood Avenue that Thomas Baker, a level 3 sex offender, was living on their block. A few clicks of a keyboard led us to his profile registered online.

Bottom line, there's a wealth of information about sex offenders out there to keep you informed. But you need to know where to look and make sure you do it regularly so you know who's living in your backyard.

Here's what some of you are saying on CNY Central's Facebook page about this story:

Jacquie Green: "Not everyone has access to or know how to use a computer to get the information that they need. I think a list should be provided and mailed out to everyone every now and then, listing what offenders are in their neighborhoods."

Margie Hastings: "I just found out a sex affender moved quite close to our elementary school by word of mouth, but I'd like to know the web site to find out."

Kelsey Furth: "I thought that the schools send out letters to families telling that there is a sex offender in the school district, but if the neighbors don't have kids in school then maybe they didn't get one and the town, village or city should send them out as well."

Do you know of any sex offenders near you? Do you keep tabs on who moves into your neighborhood? Do you think the state could do anything differently to keep you better informed? Leave your thoughts below.