GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - When Sen. Rick Jones helped re-write the state's sex offender registry, he said it would make it easier to pick out predators living in neighborhoods across the state.
"Tier 3 will be the dangerous predators," Jones, R-Grand Ledge, said at the time.
But nearly three-quarters of Michigan's registered sex offenders have landed on Tier 3, and that has some critics questioning the law.
"We don't have rapists running in the streets or banging down doors or crashing through windows on a daily basis," said long-time crime prevention organizer Barb Lester, of the Heritage Hill Association in Grand Rapids. "Most of these people that are on that list that are considered extremely dangerous, or dangerous predators, are probably never going to offend again. "I'm a crime prevention organizer, and I don't use the list."
A Target 8 investigation last year found that the state's sex offender registry, without a tier system, lumped together all offenders.
It helped lead to a state law, signed last April by Gov. Snyder, that divided them into three tiers. The tier system follows federal guidelines.
In Michigan, nearly 29,000 of 40,000 names on the list are on Tier 3.
Interactive: Michigan Sex Offender Registry Tiers
"There's more than I expected, but I wasn't surprised," said Michigan State Police Trooper Timothy Burchell, who coordinates sex offender enforcement.
Sen. Jones also wasn't surprised.
"As a father and as a grandfather, I would want to know who lived in the neighborhood where my children or grandchildren were walking to the bus stop, were walking to the store to go shopping, were playing with friends," Jones said. "I would want to know who lived in the area, and I would talk to my children about not going to that home, whether it be for trick-or-treating or whether it be for any reason."
He said the changes were required by federal law.
"Well, obviously people that molest children are the most dangerous people and you want them on the list. Has a child molester ever really paid his debt to society? I don't think so."
State police acknowledge that picking out predators is not as simple as looking for Tier 3 offenders.
And, once again, that leaves it up to you.
"It's information we give the public to let them make the decision on their own," Burchell said. "They have to make that determination on whether they're dangerous or not."
In Florida, about 1 in 10 registered sex offenders are listed as predators.
A sampling of West Michigan neighborhoods found a high percentage of Tier 3 offenders -- in Kalamazoo, Muskegon, Rockford, Holland and Grandville.
And, a Target 8 study of sex offenders in the 49503 zip code, which covers part of downtown Grand Rapids, found that Tier 3 is hardly an exclusive club. Of the 146 faces on the list, 106 of them are Tier 3.
Nearly half of those "Tier 3" members in 49503 targeted kids, most of them under 13.
They include Charles Dean Wilson, 68, who fondled a 4-year-old boy, a relative, six years ago at a home in Plainfield Township. He got probation and life on the sex offender list. But, he said, neighbors in northeast Grand Rapids should not be afraid.
"No, no, not at all," he said. "And I'd like to keep it that way."
Lester, the Heritage Hill crime-prevention organizer whose neighborhood includes 49503, said the list is wrongly painting all Tier 3 offenders with the same "predator" brush.
"Everything is lumped together," she said. "There's no shade of gray."
In 49503, Tier 3 also includes Timothy Smith, who molested a 12-year-old relative in 1999.
"He hasn't bothered me," said neighbor David Paquette. "I haven't had any complaints with him. He hasn't messed with my children."
Four doors down, there's Michael Cederquist, who got prison time for molesting two young girls, both relatives, in 2005.
His roommate, Beatrice Shashagway, said neighbors need not worry.
"Oh, no, not at all," she said. "I mean, he's even been around my kids, and they love him. He's great with them. I have no worries."
But then there's Brian Schoonmaker, who said a night of heavy drinking led him to molest a relative 24 years ago. He was in his 30s.
"She just turned 13 at the time, and I mistakenly started messing around with her because I thought she was my wife at first," Schoonmaker said. He got probation.
Four years later, he got 10 years in prison for molesting another young relative.
"I wasn't out stalking, I wasn't taking pictures of little kids at playgrounds and all that kind of stuff. It's just a situation, basically to me, it was like a family situation. You know, keep it in the family."
He says he went to counseling.
"I learned my lesson," he said. "They want to say once a sex offender always a sex offender, and I don't believe that to be true."
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