Agencies implement new software to track sex offenders

Keeping track of the 220 registered sex offenders in Shelby County is no easy task, and it is one that becomes even more difficult when offenders move from county to county.

Registered addresses of sex offenders in Shelby County

Investigator Mark Hughes, who is responsible for maintaining the local database for the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, said a new software called Offender Watch, whose use is mandated by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, is making it easier to track sex offenders.

“The software allows each agency to communicate when an offender moves from one county into their county,” Hughes said. “Offender Watch ties in with the Sheriff’s Office website for searching for offenders in your neighborhood.”

Of the 220 active sex offenders in Shelby County, 158 are on the public notification registry, meaning notices are sent to residents who live within a certain distance of the offender.

An offender who is released from jail or court with an order to register must fill out a form at the Sheriff’s Office, and if the offender is included in the community notification group, they pay a fee for post cards to be sent out to the neighborhood where they will live.

“Their address must be verified and checked before they can live anywhere,” Hughes said. “There is still the 2,000-feet rule where they cannot live close to schools, day cares or foster homes. An address verification is done randomly by a patrol deputy to make sure they are living where they say they are. If they don’t fall in the notification category, an investigator in an unmarked car will do the address verification.”

All information must be kept up-to-date, and the Sheriff’s Office must be notified of any changes. Failure to update changes in vehicles, work place, address, phone numbers, etc., will result in an arrest warrant being issued.

The recent trend in sex crimes has been a proliferation of child pornography being generated by juveniles sending nude pictures to each other via cell phone, Hughes said.

Conviction of production of child pornography or dissemination of child porn could require registration as a sex offender with the Sheriff’s Office for a period of 10 years.

Changes to Alabama law related to sex offenses effective Sept. 1 include a new definition of “incapacitated” that is applicable to rape, sodomy and sex abuse violations.

Also, “forcible compulsion” no longer requires proof of resistance by the victim, and the definition of “indecent exposure” has been loosened.

A new charge, “voyeurism,” has been added. Voyeurism 1 is a Class C felony, and the definition includes “for the purpose of gratifying the sexual desire of any person…photographs or films of the intimate areas of another person…without the person’s knowledge…under circumstances where the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy—in a public or private place.”

Voyeurism 2 is a Class A misdemeanor, and differs from the felony charge by the omission of the purpose of the crime.

The searchable database of sex offenders can be found by visiting ShelbySO.com, clicking on “Sex Offender Info” on the middle-left side of the page then clicking “Sex Offender Registry.”

The page also allows residents to register for email alerts and share information about offenders with friends, and provides safety tips.