Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 5, 2013

Bus stop's proximity to sex offender prompts concern

BY GLENN PUIT gpuit@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Morning and afternoon walks to the bus stop create a daily dose of anxiety, concern and fear for 9-year-old Skyy Elliott and her step-mom, Alyssa Rennie.

A convicted tier 3 sex offender lives right behind the stop.

“The bus stop is right there,” Skyy said. “We look at his house. We don’t feel safe.”

Rennie and another parent, Megan Baase, said the proximity of the bus stop to the residence of registered sex offender Clifford Farrar, 43, prompted them to ask Traverse City Area Public Schools to move the stop a few blocks down the road.

District officials won’t budge. TCAPS Chief Financial Officer Paul Soma called the situation a difficult one and said he sympathizes with parents. But Soma said the district can’t move bus stops based on proximity to sex offenders’ dwellings because there are so many in the area.

More than 500 registered sex offenders live in the Grand Traverse region, over 250 in Grand Traverse County alone.

“We have literally hundreds of convicted sex offenders,” Soma said. “It’s a tough one for us. (One of) the challenges is, this is a mobile population. They don’t sit still for long.”

The issue also is a challenge for others, namely those convicted of sex offenses. The Michigan Public Sex Offender Registry documents online sex offenders’ addresses, photos, offense and even what vehicles they drive.

Some experts said the entry of a sex offense conviction into the state registry means sex offenders are ostracized and scrutinized to extreme levels.

Hollida Wakefield, a forensic psychologist from Minnesota, said the rate of recidivism for sex offenders and public fears simply don’t match up.

“I will ask lay people to estimate the recidivism of sex offenders and I get estimates like 90 to 95 percent,” Wakefield said. “One really good study showed 6 to 7 percent. The most they ever showed was 10 or 12 percent, but because of the media emphasizing certain high-profile sex offenses, people feel they are in great danger from anyone who ever committed one.”

Rennie and Baase said they understand the need for sex offenders to have a chance to rehabilitate. Farrar was convicted of attempted criminal sexual conduct in the fourth-degree with multiple variables in 2003, and Baase said Farrar has tried to be exceedingly nice to her and her daughter. Perhaps too nice. One day, he called her phone excessively and bought her daughter some crafts.

“Creepy,” said Baase, who called the Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Department, which prompted a warning to Farrar to halt contact with Baase.

Farrar did not respond to a request for an interview. A reporter also knocked on the door of his home but received no response.

Rennie said she doesn’t think it’s unreasonable to ask TCAPS officials to move the stop.

“The bus stop is right in front of his house,” she said.

Bill Johnson, of Idaho, is a convicted sex offender who speaks publicly about the hardships sex offenders face as they attempt to rebuild their lives. The Idaho resident was convicted of first-degree rape in 1976. He regrets what he did and paid for it -- he spent 12 years in a maximum security prison in Washington.

He’s been trying to start anew ever since.

“I’ve never been arrested or convicted of any crime, felony or misdemeanor, since,” Johnson said. “I’m personally a Christian. Genuinely born again.”

But few people are willing to talk to him once they know about his criminal past, he said. He started a self-help group for other sex offenders, but when a newspaper published a story about the group someone found his rural house and tore up his fence in the middle of the night.

“It makes me feel horrible, like some sort of pariah,” Johnson said. “I’m a person who has this mark on me and there’s nothing I can ever do to change it. Why try? Why live? If it wasn’t for my faith in God, I would have checked out a long time ago.”