Registered Sex Offenders In East Texas-Part 2 - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

5/5/05-East Texas

Registered Sex Offenders In East Texas-Part 2

We've received an enormous response since airing last night's in-depth report on sex offenders, and where they live in East Texas. It's obvious to us, many of you have had your eyes opened to a problem you may have suspected, but hoped wasn't true. Even in some of the finest of neighborhoods, there are sex offenders living down the street, maybe next door. Now the story behind the numbers. Who are these people? What kind of crimes did they commit? And what should you be doing, if last night, you learned a whole lot you didn't know about your neighbor.

Most of the people registered around here, have been convicted of Sexual Assault on a Child under 16.

Smith County Sheriff, J.B. Smith depends on veteran detective, Peggy Scott to keep track of the 170 registered sex offenders they keep tabs on. At least one day a week though, she gets some help. "Each Thursday, we have two of our officers tied up all day long registering sex offenders," says Smith. Thursday is the big day around the sheriff's office. People, convicted of any kind of sex crime, from exposure, indecency with a child, to aggravated sexual assault walk through the doors to check in.

Some are checking in for their first time. Others come in to update their status. "The offender has to notify the sheriff's office within 7 days prior to them moving. They have to notify us when they change cars. They must notify us if they change jobs," says Smith.

For an adult, upon conviction, the registration must happen within 7 days. And it's mandatory. If there's just one offense, and they don't move, change jobs or vehicles, checking in is an annual event for the rest of their lives. Two or more offenses, and the offender must check in every 90 days, for life. Only in the case of a one-time, indecent exposure conviction, is the registration term cut short. After 10 years, the process stops.

For juvenile offenders, under 17, the rules are different. After 10 years, the once-a-year registration ends. But it's more complicated than that. With a juvenile, the judge has some discretion. The offender, even though convicted, may not have to enter the registration program. Or the judge may choose to have the young offender register yearly, but the juvenile's participation in the program will be held from public record.

So, what happens if the offender does not comply? "Well get a warrant for those individuals immediately and place them in jail," says Sheriff Smith. And it happens.

Detective Scott alone, has tracked down 56 registration violators in the past four years. Together, their punishment for not checking in, comes to about 200 years in jail.

She's passionate about the enforcement end of this job, but can still understand how a parent must feel after seeing our report, and learning a convicted sex offender is roaming free, right down the street...or maybe next door. "Keep an open mind about the situation of the offender," says Detective Scott. "Keep an open communication with the children as to the offender. Depending on their age, you don't want to scare them. But expose them to the picture that's on the Internet so they know what this offender looks like and where they live."

The DPS database includes those mug shots, addresses, and details on convictions. It's one of three outlets the law says must be informed about an offender's registration. The other two are nearby schools and area newspapers.

Other than that, and surprise visits, to make sure they live and work where they're registered, that's about all law enforcement can do. "I receive many calls from neighbors wanting to know what they can do because a sex offender is living in their neighborhood," says Detective Scott. "But unfortunately there isn't anything they can do. An offender can live anywhere they want once they're dismissed from probation or parole. If they're on probation or parole, then their officer has to approve where they live. So it's very difficult for a family to live in a neighborhood where there's a sex offender and they really can't do anything about it except be aware of it."

True to an extent. But actually, if you're sure you're working with verified information, Detective Scott says there are a few things you can do. She says, organizing your neighborhood, even going as far as purchasing a billboard, or putting out signs in your yard to make people aware of a sex offender, is not illegal. Just make certain you've verified the information.

Here's a good place to start.

Click here for the DPS Sex Offender Database.

Click here for our spreadsheet that offers the number of sex offenders in each East Texas County, and percentages of population.

Joe Terrell, reporting. jterrell@kltv.com

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