The U.S. Marshals Service is working with Montana's tribes to ensure they meet a quickly-approaching July 26 federal deadline to establish their own sex offender tracking and registration programs.
The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act requires convicted sex offenders to register where they live, work and attend school at least once a year - or more depending on where they place within a three-tiered threat system - and within three days of moving across state or tribal lines.
Tribal authorities on Montana's reservations were given the choice of setting up their own registries or adopting those already in place within the state, and they chose to implement their own.
The Marshals Service has been helping the reservations get set up since 2007 with varying results and officials said they're on hand to help until the deadline.
"We're going to support them as best we can," said Marshal Darrell Bell, who has driven more than 8,000 miles in his pickup since being sworn in this January. "We've done a lot of traveling, but it's all been very positive and we've gone beyond, 'Hey, we're just coming here to arrest one of your tribal members.'"
The basic needs to set up a sex offender registry include hiring a compliance officer to check on and track registered offenders and a computer system for data entry.
The Fort Peck and Northern Cheyenne reservations have already set up their programs with the help of $59,022 and $91,454 federal grants, respectively, received in 2008.
Chief Deputy Marshal Rod Ostermiller said the Fort Peck program is a good example of how it can work because tribal authorities work closely with county, state and federal agencies.
The Crow Reservation near Billings is in the process of setting its system up while the Rocky Boy and Fort Belknap reservations have told marshals they'll have theirs ready for the deadline.
One reservation, the Blackfeet in northwestern Montana, has already said it will hand authority over to the Glacier County Sheriff's Office.
Ostermiller said a deputy has been assigned to each reservation to help facilitate the process and it's something his office is taking seriously.
There are 2,024 registered sex offenders in the state and 1,099 living in counties that contain at least a small portion of a reservation.
It should be noted, however, that 641 of those offenders live in Yellowstone and Missoula counties, which contain small parts of the Crow and Flathead reservations as well as Billings and Missoula, the state's two most populous cities.
Bell said that, in the past, some offenders on the run have been able to hide out on reservations because of the conflicting jurisdictions but that the Adam Walsh Act has given tribes and authorities the tools to work together.
"One of the biggest things is that they have the resources available to help, so we're trying to build a better relationship between our agency and theirs," Bell said.
He added that a strong victim advocate program also goes hand in hand with the registry because the help give victims a sense of security.
The Marshals Service will help if somebody goes on the run.
"If one person's out of compliance, it's one too many," Bell said. "It's frightening."
Much of the money over the last few years for the programs has come from federal grants. While those funds can be tough to come by due to money-saving measures at the federal level, officials say it's an important program.
"We feel that the task of basically monitoring registered sex offenders is too important to put a price tag on," Ostermiller said.