HINDS COUNTY, MS (Mississippi News Now) - Child molestation, statutory rape, sexual battery, they're all classified as sex crimes. Those convicted will live with their felony record until they die and must remain on the state's sex-offender registry. It's a list that's designed to keep you and your family safe and aware. Part of keeping communities safe is for local law enforcement agencies to determine how many sex offenders are really living where they say they are, and track down those who are not.
Sheriff's departments across the state are committed to making sure streets are safe and offenders are not violating any laws. Right now, the violators are few and far between, but investigators say it takes a team working together on a daily basis to keep those felons in compliance and keep others from becoming innocent victims.
As he knocks on a neighborhood door, Investigator Keith Burton explains, "I have a report from the DPS that he's not living where his registered address is."
Hinds County has one of the largest populations of sex offenders in our state, steadily increasing over the years to the current 515 registered. Investigator Keith Burton with the Hinds County Sheriff's Department says less than two percent of those offenders are in violation. He says they either have not paid their $5 fee to re-register at the 90 day mark, or are in such bad health they are unable to leave their home to re-register. Burton is appointed solely to this division, responsible for all 515 offenders making certain they are in compliance with the guidelines.
"Apparently, nobody is home. It's an empty house, but we will do further investigation to find out," says Burton.
Once back in the office Burton is able to use animated maps to determine if this location or any other locations occupied by sex offenders are in violation.
"A sex offender is not allowed to live within 1,500 feet of a school, a park, a swimming pool or any recreational faculty utilized by persons under the age of 18. And that applies to all sex offenders," says Burton.
Deputy Eric Fox with the Rankin County Sheriff's Office says all information is critical in keeping track of offenders and eliminating their threat to society, including vehicle information such as tag numbers and the car make and model.
"We're not going to put up with it. We give them the game plan up front. We tell them all the plays, all the rules and if they can't follow them, then the sheriff has a place for them to stay," states Fox. "So, we are checking on an offender that, he transferred from another state and he was convicted for molesting a 9-year-old girl and he's compliant today."
Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey says 366 sex offenders are registered in that county.
"I don't want everybody to be scared saying that Rankin County is full of sex offenders because only 152 of these are on the street actually living in the county. The rest are incarcerated either in our jail, at the state prison or at Whitfield. But, the way the law is set up right now, we have to claim the ones that are incarcerated," explains Sheriff Bailey.
Fox says, "We go in and talk to them, make sure they're living where they said they were at according to their registry. If they work, we make sure all that information is updated with the sheriff's office."
It's a tedious job that takes much time to keep residents from becoming victims. Sheriff Bailey says it's his ultimate goal to keep you and your children safe.
"The most common offender on a sex crime against a child is a trusted family member or trusted family friend that was asked to take care of the child or keep the child. So, you know, check them out real good before you trust your child with them," said Bailey.
At this time, the sheriff says 100 percent of the sex offenders in Rankin County are compliant. As for Madison County, the chief deputy says it has 70 offenders, two of whom are non-compliant due to health reasons.
If you look on the online registry you may find an instance where a sex offender is living closer than 1,500 feet from a school or daycare, but according to Mississippi law, any sex offender who has lived at an address before July 1, 2006, that person is allowed to stay at their home. Also, if a school or daycare is built next to a sex offender's home, that person does not have to move.