There is no way of knowing if a sex offender lives across the street unless a person takes the responsibility to protect themselves and their family by checking the Indiana Sex Offender Registry. But several recent complaints about the odd behavior of an individual who happens to be a registered sex offender in Clay County have led to concerns that the state's registry is not up-to-date.
"I have three children, so I understand the fear parents have," Clay County Sheriff Mike Heaton told The Brazil Times Thursday morning. "We have complete sex offender register records here at the department, but there has been a glitch at the state level in getting accurate and timely information uploaded into the state's registry. The Indiana Sheriffs' Association (ISA) was aware of the problem in July, and with the Department of Correction and Criminal Justice Institute, began to develop a new system for sheriff's departments throughout the state."
The new system is expected to be completed in 90 days, and the Clay County Sheriff's Department is currently able to log into the present state system after recent repairs by computer technicians.
"When working with computers and technology you have to expect glitches to occur," he said.
Heaton said that several sheriffs around the state have taken the initiative to create local Web sites with local information about sex offenders and that even a few have been releasing the information to the public through local media outlets.
"It's a matter of public record and it's information the public needs to have," he said.
In an effort to keep the community informed of the 36 registered sex offenders in Clay County, the sheriff's department is in the early stages of developing its' own local Web site of registered sex offenders.
"We have been working with the county commissioners and the ISA to make sure that the new website is completely legal and accurate," Heaton said.
The Indiana Sex Offender Registry is based on Zachary's Law which took effect on Jan. 1, 2003.
Zachary's Law is named for 10-year-old Zachary Snider of Cloverdale, Ind., who was murdered by a convicted child molester in 1993. The law requires sheriff departments and the Indianapolis Police Department to establish and maintain the Indiana Sheriffs' Sex Offender Registry.
The registry is designed to provide detailed information to the general public about individuals who register as sex or violent offenders. Information gathered for the registry includes the identity, location and physical description of sex and violent offenders who live, work or study in Indiana.
A major problem with keeping the registry up-to-date is that sex offenders do not usually report when they move from one city to another.
"We urge anyone who suspects someone of being a sex offender, or notices a pattern of strange behavior from an individual involving areas where children are located, to contact law enforcement immediately," Heaton said, offering advice of the types of details an officer would be interested in. "Name, a physical description of the person and their vehicle, the location of where they may be hanging around and the type of behavior that is causing suspicion."
He also recommended that a person should never confront a suspect.
"Call us with the information," he said. "We can do the background work and investigation necessary to catch these individuals and keep them off the streets."