The state agency that oversees parole supervision defended its decision to wait 18 hours until notifying central New York news media and the general public about the search for a convicted rapist who removed a GPS monitoring device in Skaneateles.
Christopher Block, 61, was captured around 8:30 a.m. Friday near Skaneateles Country Club after a law enforcement search that began after he removed a tracking bracelet near the club around 9:25 p.m. Wednesday. Block was released from state prison in December on parole after he had been serving a sentence of 25 to 50 years following a 1984 conviction on forcible rape and kidnapping in Syracuse, according to state Division of Corrections and Community Supervision records. His convictions include two counts of first-degree rape, two counts of second-degree kidnapping, two counts of first-degree sexual abuse, two counts of third-degree criminal possession of a weapon and one count of second-degree burglary. His sex offender risk level is the highest potential for re-offending and he had already violated his parole one time prior to this week's incident.
Reverse 911 notification calls were made warning a few hundred residents in the area to lock their doors late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning. But the Syracuse regional office for state parole and area police agencies all directed news media organizations inquiring about the search on Thursday to contact the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision press office in Albany to get information. That agency sent out its first public statements about the search, labeling Block as "dangerous," around 3:30 p.m. Thursday.
In a statement issued Friday afternoon, DOCCS spokesman Thomas Mailey said the public information strategy worked as intended.
"As part of the initial search strategy immediately following the GPS cut, notice to the public was limited so it did not cause panic or unduly compromise the early stages of the search and force the absconder to go deeper into hiding," he said.
Several central law enforcement leaders, including the sheriffs in Cayuga and Onondaga counties, had criticized how communication was handled with the public and with their agencies. Cayuga County Sheriff Brian Schenck had posted to his office's Facebook on Thursday night that the lack of communication was "inexcusable."
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As part of his statement on Friday, Mailey blasted "certain local officials" for their criticism. He said all agencies had access to the information about Block being missing through a warrant posted Wednesday to the National Crime Information Center database and an all-points-bulletin/be-on-the-lookout-for alert initially sent to the Syracuse and Skaneateles police departments. He said DOCCS staff also reached out to some local law enforcement directly.
"Also contrary to the local officials’ tweets and statements, these local agencies actually participated in the search and investigation with DOCCS and NYSP, deploying personnel, canine and a helicopter within two hours of the cut," Mailey said.
Schenck, though, said on Saturday that his office was not asked to and did not deploy a canine team, contrary to the DOCCS statement. He also reiterated that his concerns were with "our lack of being included in the ongoing investigation/search the following day, and the fact that the public was not notified in a timely manner."
Schenck had also posted a Facebook statement on Friday saying he was hoping to work with DOCCS to learn from this week's incident and improve intra-agency and public communication for these types of incidents in the future. He reiterated that stance on Saturday.
"There are many issues here that I want to address with the state to see how we all can do better in the future should we be tasked with locating dangerous parolees that are released into our communities for whatever reason and decide to abscond," he said.
"The public does not want to see this debated in the media, I am sure, nor do I," he said. "They want to know that our agencies are willing to partner to ensure their safety. That is the mission of the Cayuga County Sheriff's Office and what will drive us forward."