New technology helps police keep track of sex offenders

One of the primary methods for law enforcement to protect society from sex offenders is a notification system.

Once released from jail or the court system, people convicted of crimes including rape, sexual abuse and more must register with the sheriff’s office in the county in which they reside. Sheriff’s offices maintain databases of information about these offenders including where they live, where they work, what they drive and who they live with.

Law enforcement also sends notices to nearby residents, and a searchable registry is made available on websites, such as ShelbySO.com.

Keeping track of the information is challenging. Offenders do not always register quarterly as required by law, or notify law enforcement of changes to their addresses and other information.

Such failure to notify law enforcement is a crime, and agencies prosecute these crimes. But to prove these crimes have been committed, the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office devotes an investigator to these cases, who pulls files randomly and visits the addresses on file to make sure the individual has not moved or changed living arrangements.

An offender who moves to a different county can be an even bigger challenge because in such a case two or more agencies are involved, but the state of Alabama is enhancing collaboration through the Offender Watch software, which tracks offenders across counties, said SCSO Investigator Mark Hughes, who is responsible for maintaining Shelby County’s database.

“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.”

Newer laws and trends could lead to an even larger number of people on the registry. Recently, there has been a proliferation of child pornography being generated by juveniles sending nude pictures to each other via cell phone, Hughes said.

While law enforcement must develop new ways to track sex offenders and government must provide police with the tools they need for the job, now even parents must play an important role in the effort to keep our communities safe.