News

Corrections officer keeps tabs on local felons

By Kevin Hanson, The Courier-Herald

Convicted felons are roaming the Enumclaw area, violating terms of their release, and it's Tim McLaughlin's job to track them down.

At the same time, other convicted felons are walking the straight and narrow, adhering to terms of their parole and working their way back into society's good graces. For them, McLaughlin is on duty to verify their good behavior.

Simply, McLaughlin's job requirements are dictated by those who have already been in trouble with the law.

McLaughlin is employed by the state's Department of Corrections and is assigned to the Auburn field office, but works from a desk at the Enumclaw police station. The closer he and his fellow community corrections officers are to their clients, the better everyone is served, McLaughlin said.

Most of those convicted by the court system of felony violations or gross misdemeanors are eventually released from incarceration. Returned to society, they're set free with a series of conditions and assigned to a community corrections officer. McLaughlin said he's currently keeping tabs on 27 felons living in the 98022 ZIP Code and, perhaps, six of those are now violating the terms of their release.

"Certainly, there are more than 27 in Enumclaw that have active criminal records," he said. But only those 27 are still under the watchful eye of the court system and the Department of Corrections.

When an offender is released and assigned to a community corrections officer, it's usually for a period of 12 to 24 months, McLaughlin said. During that time, offenders are required to report to corrections officers on a regular basis, provide a valid address, remain in the county and pay court-ordered restitution. The courts can add a series of other conditions specific to the offender's crime: for example, those convicted of drug violations can be ordered to receive treatment and those found guilty of sex offenses can be required to stay away from pornographic materials.

McLaughlin and his fellow corrections officers have the right to show up at an offender's home and conduct a search, without a warrant. Community corrections officers have arrest powers, can carry firearms and have the right to seize property.

McLaughlin said the number of offenders currently being monitored has dropped in Enumclaw. The officer working the area before him often had more than 60 to keep tabs on, he said. He figures the number has dropped because recently-released felons tend to be a transient population, and will be drawn to the more urban areas where they can receive social services (mental health counseling or substance abuse treatment, for example).

While the majority of offenders behave themselves, it's the rest who demand most of the attention. "Most of my time is spent with individuals who are not doing what they supposed to be doing," McLaughlin said. When a felon fails to report for treatment or doesn't check in at the required time, McLaughlin begins the hunt.

Often, his search takes him to places average citizens might not imagine. "Some of the places I go are real eye-openers," he said, explaining some criminals are always on the move. These "couch surfers," he said, take advantage of family and friends as they look for a place to sleep.

"Most of my time is spent administratively," McLaughlin said, explaining he keeps busy gathering information about those under his watch and reporting to the courts.

Kevin Hanson can be reached at khanson@courierherald.com

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