Top cop: Sex offenders register a must

ROB KIDD
Last updated 09:35 18/11/2012
Kate Smith
JOHN SELKIRK / Fairfax NZ
DETECTIVE KATE SMITH: "I don't want to scaremonger but I want people to be educated."

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The country's top paedophile cop has given her backing to a sex-offenders register, saying it could stop dangerous predators operating undetected.

Detective Kate Smith, 38, has led Counties Manukau Police's Child Exploitation Unit since it was launched two years ago. She has just been named Australasia's most outstanding female investigator for her work with the unit.

Straddling the wall of her office is a map of her patch - on it the names, details and addresses of every known paedophile in her area. These are the men (and one woman) she keeps constant watch on. These are the hard core of serious child abusers, those who systematically set out to groom children. They number close to 100.

But even so, those plotted street by street on her map do not include the opportunistic or the intra-familial child abusers, who make up about 90 per cent of such offenders.

As the sole member of the unit, she has forged relationships with other agencies such as Customs, Internal Affairs and Probation to stop sexual offenders before they target vulnerable children.

Smith said cross-agency communication had made huge strides in the past few years but offenders still escaped detection.

She saw a sex-offenders register, recently touted by Police Minister Anne Tolley, as a way of ensuring that did not happen.

She sees those on the register being obliged to report any changes in address or circumstances which may change their risk level.

Smith believes paedophiles can be managed and, if they care enough, they can learn to manage themselves.

As someone whose working day involves sitting down for a cuppa with child molesters, she has a fair idea of what makes them tick.

"Some of those guys want to be safe," she said. "There are very few that want to be that way because it's so antisocial and so isolating."

Smith's methods, though meticulously planned, are relatively straightforward - she goes to the house of a suspected offender, tells them who she is and talks to them. It takes time, but they tell her what they have done or plan to do.

"A burglar might go home and talk to his mates about it, even murderers - but it's not like sex offenders can go down the pub and talk about their offending."

Despite many offenders being solitary types, Smith said there was worrying news of a "community" developing.

"I'd like to say there isn't, but . . . we're finding more and more are learning from others on the internet or communicating by other means," she said. "They're actually learning about grooming - it's just nasty."

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Working with offenders for the past couple of years exposed Smith to the variety of psychological issues among paedophiles and she believes they are often wrongly demonised.

"I don't think they're evil, I think they're cunning," she said. "Well . . . some of them are evil."

She said the majority of sex offenders suffered from "blurred boundaries" and their behaviour escalated as they searched for more depraved things to satisfy their urges. The key was identifying them early.

Often it was only when she pointed it out to them that they realised where their actions would ultimately land them.

Rather than giving her a chance to sit back and reflect, Smith said the award had given her a "huge kick up the bum" to spread the word about the work she does.

"I'd love to present to schools, community groups and parents groups," she said. "I don't want to scaremonger but I want people to be educated."

Smith, who has given presentations to other cops about her work, hopes for more chances to train officers to pick up warning signs of budding sex offenders on the lower rung of the ladder.

"In terms of resources you can only really justify targeting high- risk offenders but I think there's huge merit in targeting burgeoning child sex offenders," she said.

- Sunday Star Times

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