Is there an offender nearby?

Published 12:41 am Sunday, July 19, 2009

People who want to know if sex offenders live in their neighborhoods may find out by going to the U.S. Department of Justice Web site.

The Web site is a cooperative effort among different jurisdictions that host public sexual offender registries and the federal government. People may search by name, area, zip code, county, city or town and even nationally.

Today, on pages 7-10, The Selma Times-Journal has listed all the available names, addresses and photographs of convicted sex offenders in Dallas County. The newspaper used the registry as a partial database; other information came from local law enforcement agencies.

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Because the registered sex offenders may move about and might not register a new address even if required by law, people who use these registries should understand that the information on them regarding addresses might be out of date.

Law enforcement agencies make every attempt, for the most part, to verify the addresses of registered sex offenders, but there are some on the list that have not been verified in several years or have no updates given.

Knowing the convicted sex offenders in the neighborhood, however, is just a part of the battle.

Those who would prey on children and teenagers have a new tool that has grown more popular in the last few years the computer.

Not long ago, Maggie Davies, a children’s advocate and board member of the Children’s Advocacy Council here, went online in a chat room and posed as a 12 year old. The pedophiles came out.

“Some were cool about it and wanted to engage me like a big brother,” she said. “Four came out and just asked if I wanted sex.”

Davies said she took her action as a private citizen, but turned the chat room information over to the FBI.

“It is my duty to turn in offenders since I work with kids,” she said. “But as a mom, I want them stopped.”

The Selma Police Department does not have a cyber investigation department. But if someone comes to the police department with a complaint, officers will investigate, said Selma Police Department Lt. David Evans.

“Pedophiles learned to use the Internet for prey on children,” he said. “Law enforcement are using the Internet now to catch them.”

So, how can a parent do something at home if the police don’t have a cyber unit?

Route your children’s computers through your own, Davies recommends.

“Know that every 12-year-old boy is not a 12-year-old boy,” she said. “Let your kids only chat with school friends. And, I hate to say it, but spy. Spy to protect your kids. One day they will thank you. I trust my kids. I just do not trust other people.”