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‘Ryan’s park': Ground zero for a national crackdown

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on May 21, 2009 at 7:33 pm with No Comments »
May 21, 2009 7:33 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Tacoma has been linked to some notorious crimes and criminals, including Ted Bundy, David Brame and "Beltway Sniper" John Allen Muhammad.

None of their acts came close to matching the enduring, nationwide effects of the sexual attack on Ryan Hade, the "little Tacoma boy," 20 years ago this week.

Although Ryan survived his 1989 sexual mutilation at the hands of sexual psychopath Earl Kenneth Shriner, the horror of it triggered a wave of public outrage that has not abated to this day.

Ryan died in a motorcycle accident four years ago. On Wednesday, Ryan’s mother, Helen Harlow, gathered with a few friends at Tacoma’s Celebration Park to remember him. The park itself – at South D and 80th streets – could serve as a metaphor for the crime and its consequences.

The very place where Shriner attacked Ryan, it was then a predator’s paradise: brushy, full of hiding places, and a magnet for children. It has since been cleared, developed and turned into a community asset.

Tacoma Councilwoman Connie Ladenburg, who was at the gathering, said she would ask the City Council to rename it "Ryan’s Park" – an excellent idea.

The site was ground zero for what turned into a national movement. Shriner was a compulsive sex predator who had already strangled a retarded girl and left her body tied to a tree. He’d been behind bars repeatedly, and prison authorities and police feared he’d reoffend again after he’d served his time. Yet they were helpless to prevent his release or even warn the neighborhood of his return.

Once free, Shriner abducted Ryan, raped him, cut off his penis, stabbed him and tried to strangle him.

The furious public reaction led to passage of the 1990 Community Protection Act, which mandated that communities be told of sex offenders in their midst and provided for indefinite psychological treatment – in confinement – of the worst predators.

The confined treatment now being done on McNeil Island seems likely to fade eventually. It is extremely expensive – more than $100,000 a year per "patient." And the Legislature has since enacted a "two-strikes" law for compulsive predators. Instead of treatment, sexual psychopaths convicted under the law get life sentences. Cheaper, more effective.

But the community notification component isn’t going away.

It’s been adopted by all 50 states and the U.S. government. As a result, citizens can use law-enforcement Web sites to identify the convicted sex offenders in their neighborhoods.

A 2006 state study found a 70 percent drop in the repeat-conviction rate of sex felons since the notification law was adopted. There’s no way to determine whether the notification accounted for some of that drop, but it can’t have hurt.

So, call it Ryan’s Park. It’s a place of national significance.

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