- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 4, 2014

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - A law enforcement sweep in Montana’s most populous county located 95 sexual and violent offenders who were out of compliance with address registration laws, authorities said Tuesday.

Fifteen of the people located during the operation in Yellowstone County were sex offenders and 80 were violent offenders, the state Justice Department said.

After being located, they were brought into compliance with a state law that requires people convicted of certain crimes to register their address with local law enforcement and periodically verify that information.

Two people were arrested: one for failing to inform authorities after moving from Butte to Billings, and one on an out-of-county warrant.

The other 93 offenders were registered at their address or after reporting to the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office. They will not be charged unless they again fail to return address verification letters they receive from the Justice Department, agency spokeswoman Anastasia Burton said.

The state lists more than 5,500 registered offenders in Montana. Almost 60 percent were convicted of violent crimes, with assault the most common offense, according to state data.

Accounting for last week’s sweep 554 of those offenders were noncompliant after failing to return verification letters as required under state law, said John Strandell, bureau chief for the state Division of Criminal Investigations.

Montana’s registration law was first enacted in 1989 to cover sex offenders only. In the years since, lawmakers have broadened the requirements to include more categories of sexual and violent convictions.

That’s forced law enforcement to scramble to keep up. Since 2011, the noncompliance figure has been reduced by 40 percent, Strandell said.

“We’re gaining,” he said. “It’s education and holding these offenders accountable.”

Penalties for failing to register can include up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Officers with the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office, Billings police, MSU Billings police and the U.S. Marshals Service also were involved in the operation.

In October, a similar effort located 52 noncompliant offenders in Great Falls. Attorney General Tim Fox says similar sweeps are planned for other Montana cities.

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