Is a sex offender too close?

Published 10:12 pm Saturday, July 11, 2009

(Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of three stories about registered sex offenders in Dallas County and Selma. The second installment will run Wednesday and the third on Sunday.)

Sex offenders live in our neighborhoods; they live lives similar to everyone else.

The only difference between you and a sex offender is the offender is required by law to register as such in the state and county in which he or she resides within seven days or they are in violation of the Community Notification Act.

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That doesn’t always happen.

For example, last week a South Alabama law enforcement agency arrested a man convicted of a sex crime in a 1997 federal case. The man was living in a house with a roommate and three children. He had not registered in Alabama.

Convicted sex offenders must also follow certain rules, such as not live in the house with children, generally. But an offender can live with a minor child as long as the offender is a parent, step-parent or grandparent and as long as the offender’s victim was not a child under his or her care or supervision at the time of the offense, according to officials with the Alabama Department of Public Safety.

If the offender’s victim was a child under the age of 12, he or she cannot live with a minor, or loiter in areas where children congregate.

Exiting law prohibits convicted sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of high schools or elementary schools. A law passed during the last session of the Alabama Legislature now keeps sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a college or university.

The latest figures for Alabama show 7,656 registered sex offenders publicly viewable in the official state registry.

As of today, 88 registered sex offenders live in Dallas County. Sex offenders in Alabama have had to register for more than 40 years by law.

Since 1996, state law has required notification of people in a neighborhood. People living within a 1,000-foot radius of a registered sex offender are notified by mail or by flyers that a sex offender has moved into their area.

“When a person is convicted of a crime and becomes a sexual offender, then the courts send us notification,” said Dallas County Chief Deputy Randy Pugh. “That person has 10 days to come to the sheriff’s department and file as an offender.”

A similar process occurs in Selma, said Selma police Sgt. Doug Stewart. The city receives information from the courts and the offenders report to officers.

“If they don’t report, then officers are put on the lookout,” he said.

The county keeps up with offenders by using the state Department of Public Safety’s system. Both agencies, county and city, fill out a form and submit it to the department.

Sexual offenders have to come to the county or city law enforcement departments twice a year to verify their address and prove they are still in the area.

“Deputies visit the offenders once a year,” Pugh added. “They are able to do that through the JAG grant because it allows for overtime.”

A typical visit is the law enforcement officer confirms the offender still lives at the residence; talks to anyone in the home and ensures nobody is doing anything they shouldn’t.

The state has a Web site,, which lists sex offenders in the state. The department makes changes based upon information provided from local law enforcement. If old address appear on the Web site, it may be because the person is non-compliant.

Both Pugh and Stewart said for individuals to report someone who is living too close to a school, daycare or is not at the address displayed on the Web.

“We are the local liaisons for the city,” Stewart said, adding that the sheriff’s department performed the same duties for the county.