Federal agents in Maine are working with local, county and state officers in a nationwide program to make sure registered sex offenders are complying with the law.

Operation Guardian is timed to coincide with the opening of schools across the country.

During a sweep of Greater Portland on Thursday and Friday, officers checked on 80 convicted sex offenders and arrested 10, on charges of violating probation, failing to update registry information or committing new crimes.

There are 175 registered sex offenders in Portland, according to Maine’s U.S. marshal, Noel March.

He said the checks are aimed at getting people to abide by their requirements to make the community safer.

“We’re not doing this to make arrests. We’re doing this to ensure compliance,” March said.

Among those arrested Friday was John M. Billings, 38, a convicted sex offender who police say hasn’t registered in years. Billings had unlawful sexual contact with a 13-year-old girl and was released from prison in 1999.

He was arrested in Windham.

Authorities also arrested Philip Gurney, 49, on Danforth Street in Portland, charging him with a felony for allegedly failing to register multiple times.

The effort in Maine began three weeks ago in the Lewiston-Auburn area, where police and deputy marshals checked 42 registrants and made seven arrests for noncompliance.

Last week in York County, authorities made seven arrests in 80 checks.

March said the effort will continue throughout the state in the weeks to come. “It’s important that this message be loud and clear: The authorities are checking,” he said. “The obligation to comply is a very serious one.”

Ideally, the potential for police checks will lead offenders to voluntarily meet their requirements, he said.

“We’re not looking to kick doors in or cause a scene or cause undue embarrassment,” March said. Instead, police are prioritizing the list of registered sex offenders to determine who poses the biggest risk based on their criminal history and past compliance with probation and registration requirements.

Most of those arrested had not updated their information about where they live, work or attend school. Registrants have said that being forthright with such information can cost them a job or an apartment.

Since 2006, the Adam Walsh Act has designated the U.S. Marshals Service as the lead federal agency to coordinate sex-offender registry compliance checks. The Marshals Service helped local departments fund overtime so officers could be assigned to join in the sweeps, March said.

 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: [email protected]