Who's tracking local sex offenders? Some addresses listed on registry don't match up

Updated: May. 24, 2017 at 7:17 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Do you know how many sex offenders live in your neighborhood?

A sex offender registry allows you to search important information, but what if the information you're entitled to know by law was inaccurate? Sex offenders are divided into groups based on the offense they committed.

In our investigation, we focused solely on the 'high-risk' sex offenders, listed as Tier 3 or Adult predators.

Tier 3 sex offenders are known to be the most violent and have been convicted of aggravated sexual assault, regardless of age, or kidnapping. Tier 3 offenders also must register for life.

The system that was put in place to protect families and children is based on national guidelines put in place by the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act.

The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division runs the program and website. Major James Stewart with the Richland County Sheriff's Department says each local sheriff's department is in charge of the registering local sex offenders in their county.

"When someone is homeless we are instructed to put down the area they frequent. If it's around Elmwood, we put Elmwood. If you have a cross street, we may put an intersection. We list it as best we can as to where they frequent," Stewart said.

Of the 15,000 sex offenders registered in the state of South Carolina, 750 of them live in Richland County.

At least 136 registered sex offenders living within the 29201 zip code. In that list, at least 32 high-risk sex offenders including adult predators – have no known address.

Stewart says the address listed could be their home, work, or temporary labor address.

Rose Marie Craig has owned a business in the Vista for more than 32 years. She just recently learned that her business address is listed on the sex offender registry but that no sex offenders live or work there.

"The intention of the law is not being accomplished and it makes me feel like getting on the phone and calling my elected officials," Craig said. "On some level, it's a little alarming because they don't and in another sense, it sounds as though they can just
create any address to get in the system and it doesn't sound like they are doing a whole lot of documenting to make sure that's correct."

WIS found the same thing to be true at multiple other businesses and homes across Columbia. Another business address listed was  Sweet Temptations bakery and a home on North Main Street.

Major Stewart says they are required by law to make a visit to the address at least once a year. However, they are not required to verify their work.

"There is no requirement about validating the work, we are trusting what they say," Stewart said. "There's at least 17 other states following the same rules that we do about registering with work. It's not just South Carolina making these rules up."

"The job is not getting done and if anything, it's being taken advantage of," Craig said. "There is no way to track them. Do the math on how many come through our front door every year. 1/3 are registering every 3 months, the rest of them are registering every 6 months. That's a lot through our front doors.

In addition – homeless sex offenders aren't exactly required to pay the registration fees.

"They are supposed to pay $150 annually, so if they are homeless, we really don't collect near enough money to run the program."

The fees fund the registration program at each individual sheriff's department. Richland County says they're not even clearing $10,000 a year needed to fund employees to run the system and the equipment used.

Need to know who's in your neighborhood? You can go to the sex offender registry by clicking here.

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