"Sex offenders are a part of society," Clay County Sheriff Mike Heaton said about what is considered a public safety issue. "They work in a variety of different jobs and live in all kinds of neighborhoods. People need to understand that a sex offender could be anyone."
A person convicted of rape, criminal deviate conduct, child molesting, child exploitation, vicarious sexual gratification, child solicitation, child seduction, sexual misconduct with a minor as a Class A, B, or C felony, incest, sexual battery, kidnapping if the victim is less than 18, criminal confinement if the victim is less than 18 or for possession of child pornography if the person has a prior unrelated conviction for possession of child pornography, will be required to register as a sex offender when they complete their term of incarceration.
Zachary's Law was passed by the Indiana Legislature and became effective on Jan. 1, 2003. The law is named after 10-year-old Zachary Snider, Cloverdale, who was sexually assaulted and murdered by convicted child molester Christopher Stevens in 1993. It requires that all sex offenders released from incarceration register with the local sheriff's department in the community where they will live, work, attend school or visit for more than three days.
"The sex offender registry is a requirement by law, it is not considered retribution and shouldn't be used for that purpose by anyone," Heaton said. "Besides informing the public, the registry has the potential to be a check-and-balance measure for offenders. With this information available to the public, an offender knows they can be recognized as a potential threat if they are found to be hanging around an area they're not supposed to be in. It makes them aware of potential bad situations that they can avoid."
Interested members of the public can access the most up-to-date information about local sex offenders in the county, or from anywhere around the state, by logging onto www.indianasheriffs.org. According to information provided by the Indiana Sheriff's Association the website gets nearly 1,000 hits per day.
The website provides the identity, known aliases, location, picture if available and a physical description of the appearance of sex and violent offenders who live, work, or study in local communities.
"We investigate a variety of cases locally throughout the year involving sex offenders. And we have cases that involve repeat offenders," Heaton said. "This is not just about child safety, this is an important issue for any parent or family member of a child."
The Indiana Dept. of Correction ensures a sex offender is registered at the time of their release, but it is the personal responsibility of the offender to register with the local sheriff's department where they plan to live, work, study or even vacation for longer than three days.
"Sex offenders need to register where they are at all times," Heaton said. "If an offender is going to be here in Clay County for any three-day time period, we need to know where they are. If they arrive here on Monday, then they better be in my office registering no later than Wednesday morning."
If residents know of a person convicted of an offense that would require registration on the offender site but they have failed to do so, they should contact their local sheriff's department so the person can be located.