Can you trust the sex offender registry system to protect your family?

LAWRENCE COUNTY, AR (KAIT) - A Region 8 News investigation finds the system set up to protect us is actually failing us.

The Arkansas Crime Information Center does its best to label sex offenders. But through our investigation, we found some flaws.

Many local police departments have websites that provide a link to the state sex offender registry. But, while a sex offender may be on the map, it doesn't necessarily mean they live there.

Within a few clicks, you can find out what registered sex offenders are living in your neighborhood. The site is documented with pictures, crime information, and whereabouts. Detective Daniel Hill with the Walnut Ridge Police Department tracks sex offenders in his city.

"They want to know who's living next door to them and rightfully so," said Hill.

But, can you trust the sex offender system set up to protect you and your children? We found the system to be severely flawed.

Michelle Brandon is a level 3 sex offender. She's shown on the ACIC map less than 1,500 from the Walnut Ridge School District. State law requires level 3 and 4 sex offenders to live more than 2,000 feet from a school. We went to Detective Hill for answers.

"Now she's living in South Carolina," said Hill. He tells us Brandon moved out-of-state two months ago after her risk level was determined and told by police she would have to move.

"We are not going to take her off of our system until we're a hundred percent sure that she is at a different registry, at a different state," said Hill.

The same went for Michael Cowart in Hoxie. He is also a level 3 living within 1,200 feet from a school.

Police there say he picked up and moved over 1 and a half ago without any police notification. Without a forwarding address, he'll stay on the map. It's a problem, Hill says, that leaves some asking questions.

"They're still stating why is it showing that?...There's showing to be a sex offender living right next to my house, right next to the school. Why is that? And to be honest, I don't really have an answer," said Hill.

Hill has detailed case files that document every sex offender who has lived within Walnut Ridge. He believes the map is used to provide at least some sort of record of the sex offender's whereabouts.

"Because she'd be lost in limbo. They try to keep her on the system so we have some type of contact information—some type of last known address," said Hill.

While Hill feels the state has a handle on offenders within Arkansas, he says the only way to solve issues with those out-of-state is "if everybody cooperated on one form, one national registry maybe that would work, but there's no telling how much work that would be," said Hill.

A lot of questions, but what is the answer? There is a national sex offenders public website But even with that, the criteria is limited only to what each local jurisdiction provides.

Many even listed sex offenders with their current address as unverified. Michelle Brandon, wasn't even listed on the site. To solve the problem, it will take a true national effort, coordination from all 50 states, and likely millions of dollars.

South Carolina, when South Carolina notifies Arkansas of Brandon's move, she will be removed from Arkansas's registry.

If you have any concerns about sex offenders in your area, you can always contact your local police who can answer any question you might have.

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