by Lisa Tome
After serving as a one-man unit for more than 15 years, Detective Mike Cunningham now has some help.
Detective Terry Ressin has joined Cunningham in the county's Megan's Law unit for the Cecil Sheriff's Office. They are charged with the task of standing between sex offenders and the public, making sure offenders comply with the law about registering and checking in.
"It's always been a challenging job. And they saw a need for a second person. The sheriff kept his promise," said Cunningham, who has been working in the unit solo since about 2000.
Detective Ressin was a police officer in Baltimore before retiring. He joined CCSO almost eight years ago. He brings a host of knowledge and investigative experience to the post in the Megan's Law unit.
"We are just one part of the (division) which protects children," said Ressin as he cited the importance of the investigators from the agency's Child Advocacy Unit. "The children need a voice. I'd see how overwhelmed Mike is," said Ressin. He explained that he worked as a detective and in courts before applying to work with sex offenders.
"He caught on quickly. He has a good personality for this job. It's a perfect fit," said Cunningham. Ressin started working in the unit four months ago. "He picked up the ball and ran with it," said Cunningham of Ressin.
The duties of the two men include registering as yet unregistered sex offenders, tracking them, and making certain they check in regularly. "Our job is to keep communication open. We're not lawyers. We're not judges. These cases (for sex offenders) have already been adjudicated. Our job is to make them want to come in here and do it in a professional manner," the pair explained.
"We are the people who stay with these people (registered sex offenders) for 15 years to life. We make them comply and make them want to be compliant," said Cunningham. There are currently about 173 registered sex offenders living in Cecil County. One is a female.
"It's very fluid. Three just moved in. It's a transient population and is constantly shifting," they explained.
"I don't want to set them (offenders) up for failure," said Ressin. "We don't want to make it impossible for them to get a job. Or with housing."
"We've come a long way with Megan's Law. Ostracizing them will put them back in the shadows. Our job is to bring them out in the public and make the public aware of who they are. The public needs to know who they are," said Cunningham. "We want it so they are not lurking in the shadows."
Their work includes public education. Either or both will speak to community groups and answer questions about the registry. Cunningham talks to freshmen at Elkton High each year about staying off the register. They also regularly have contact with 4-H clubs, other groups, and childcare workers.
Both men were typing warrants last week for non compliant offenders. "We're not unreasonable. But we will (arrest them) if they are not doing what they are supposed to do," said Cunningham.
The pair said most of the sex offenders are compliant. They said the "overwhelming majority" does what they are supposed to do. "But we still check on them. Because you never know," said Cunningham.
And now that it's a two-man unit, they are able to leave the office more often. One will stay at the office to handle those newly registering. The other can be out doing compliance checks and investigations.
"Two of us can do a lot more field work and compliance checks. The warrants come as a result of those compliance checks," said Ressin.
If a sex offender has no fixed address, they are required to check in once a week. Depending on their crime tier, others on the registry check in several times a year.
Tier I offenders stay on the registry for 15 years.
Tier II offenders stay on the registry for 25 years.
Tier III offenders stay on the registry for life.
The majority of those on the list in Cecil are on the list for life.
They emphasized the role of others involved with compliance. "We're just part of a bigger team, which meets once a month," said Ressin.