Police want to see more for sex offender registry

TUPELO – Mississippi’s sex offender registry is a good tool, but authorities say they’d like to see it help law enforcement more on the front end.
When one of his deputies pulls over a car, Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson said, there’s no way to immediately know if the driver is a convicted sex offender. The person could have a kidnapped child in the vehicle and without knowing that person is a sex offender, Johnson said precious time can be lost.
Even though sex offenders must register every 90 days with the sheriff’s department, the only information linking their history is on a computer screen far away from the officers on the streets.
“When we pull someone over and call in their tag number, we only get general information and none of it deals with whether or not that person is a convicted sex offender,” said Johnson. “They could have a child in the car and be planning on doing harm and unless they have a warrant out on them, they could be let go.
“That’s why we have to find a way for officers to identify sex offenders as soon as they come across one. The safety of the community depends on it.”
Some people have suggested that sex offender information be linked to the vehicle’s tag number, but Johnson said that is not a foolproof method.
“What if that person is in someone else’s car,” said Johnson. “Then it won’t show up. What if someone else is driving a sex offender’s car? Then they will be held under suspicion.
“I think there are better ways to recognize who’s a sex offender.”
Johnson said the answer is to require sex offenders to be labeled as such with a decal on their driver’s licenses. That will allow officers immediately to know what they did and who they are.
People with permits to carry concealed weapons have decals on their driver’s license. It lets police know a weapon may be in the vehicle.
Tupelo Police Maj. Anthony Hill said requiring sex offenders to have their conviction status placed on their driver’s license is something that could help identify them.
“We’re not saying that all convicted sex offenders are dangerous, but some are,” said Hill. “We want to protect the public from any threats and being able to identify sex offenders sooner can help to do that. Anything that will aid in helping the public is a good thing.”
A common problem law enforcement faces on traffic stops is people not having their driver’s license, and Itawamba Sheriff Chris Dickinson said if the Department of Public Safety makes sure that sex offender information is linked to their vehicle registration information, that problem can be solved.
“Nothing is foolproof, but I think putting the decal on the license and putting the information with that person’s registration can close a lot of loopholes in identifying sex offenders.”
If state Rep. Brian Aldridge has it his way, what police propose could become a law one day. The Tupelo resident said he’ll draft a bill to require the Department of Public Safety to check the sex offender registry when a person gets his or her license renewed. If that person is a convicted sex offender, Aldridge said a decal then would be put on that person’s license to specify it.
Said Aldridge: “Protecting the public is our main goal and this bill can help to do that. We want to give law enforcement every tool possible to protect people and this would be another one of those tools.”
Johnson said just like on traffic stops, authorities receive limited information on suspects when they get called to homes as well. He said he’d like deputies to know beforehand if they are dealing with a sex offender.
“There could be something going on at a house with a child or something that the officer doesn’t pay any attention to because they don’t know what to look out for,” said Johnson. “If I get dispatched to a home and I know it’s a convicted sex offender, then I know if I see children in the home that don’t belong to that person, something may be wrong.”
Because sex offenders have to register with the sheriff’s department, Johnson said deputies have a pretty good handle on where they live.
Contact Danza Johnson at (662) 678-1583 or danza.johnson@djournal.com.

Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal