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Hartselle Enquirer

Online tool aids in tracking registrants

It could be your neighbor or team coach. It could be the local club leader or family friend. It could be a fellow church member or homeowner down the street.
Chances are, you know, live by or work near one of the 300 registered sex offenders in Morgan County. Knowing that – and taking the needed precautions – can go a long way towards making sure you and your family are safe.
According to the US Department of Justice as many as 95 percent of sexual offenses involve the assault of a victim known by the perpetrator. In Morgan County, Sheriff Greg Bartlett has taken direct aim at that statistic through a new notification program called Offender Watch.
Bartlett’s office is charged with registering and monitoring all sex offenders within the county. Alabama law requires sex offenders to register with the Sheriff’s Office within seven days of moving into an area, when they relocate or travel for more than three days. They are also required to update their status in person with the Sheriff’s Office twice a year.
Offender Watch, an on-line program, allows residents to search for sex offenders via zip code and sends out email notifications if an offender moves into one of your designated areas. It also monitors the whereabouts and registration status of sex offenders and oversees the mailing of notification postcards when a sex offender moves to an area.
“That’s made the notification process much more accurate,” Bartlett said.
There is no cost to sign up for the program and you can register for notifications in multiple addresses.
“We were the first county to use Offender Watch and now it’s being used in almost every county in the state,” Bartlett said. “The minute you register with Offender Watch, you automatically receive information if an offender moves into your neighborhood.”
The program costs about $10,000 a year and is paid for through pistol permit funds, with the state providing a small portion, too.
In addition to the monitoring by Offender Watch, the sheriff’s office also uses an investigator to track offenders and monitor their locations. Alabama law prohibits offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school, day care or church. That limits the location where many can live.
“In Hartselle, for example, there are only a couple of places that are within the law,” Bartlett said.

Offender next door

• At least half of convicted child molesters report that they also have sexually assaulted an adult.
• More than 80 percent of convicted adult rapists report that they have molested children.
• Approximately one-third of sex offenders report assaulting both males and females.
• More than two-thirds of offenders who reported committing incest also said they assaulted victims outside the family.
• Less than 30 percent of sex crimes are believed to be reported to law enforcement.

Talking to your child

• Avoid scary details. Include general information when speaking to children. Use language that is honest and age-appropriate.
• If your children could possibly have contact with a registered sex offender, show your children the sex offender’s photo. Instruct your children to avoid contact with the offender. Instruct them to avoid being in the vicinity of the offender’s residence or workplace.
• Encourage your children to tell you about any contact from any person who makes them feel uncomfortable. It is important to teach your children about appropriate and inappropriate contact and to have regular talks about their interactions with others.

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