Online tool helps you track nearby sex offenders

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - There's an improved tool at your disposal to find out if convicted sex offenders live in your neighborhood. All you need is an Internet connection and a couple of minutes to find out who is living in your neighborhood, and why the state of South Carolina wants to keep an eye on them.

The web site is called OffenderWatch, SLED's enhanced database of names, addresses, photos and background on the state's nearly 13,000 registered sex offenders.

It's especially important now because this week, the state began prohibiting sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of schools, daycare centers and other places where kids are concentrated.

"It's taken over two years to get the mapping done appropriately and to get it installed in all 46 sheriff's offices," said Jeff Moore of the S.C. Sheriff's Association. "It took some time. But that is specifically there to aid the sheriffs in identifying where these restricted locations are."

The State Law Enforcement Division has been posting sex offender information online for years. The latest generation of its sex offender registry makes it easier for users to pinpoint where offenders live in relation to schools and child care facilities.

"There's some safety tips on there for parents as well that's put out across the nation because these individuals in our opinion on the law enforcement side continue to represent a threat to young children," said SLED Director Reggie Lloyd.

Richland Rep. Joan Brady pushed legislation imposing the residency restrictions along with more comprehensive online information. "Hopefully it's going to be a protective measure for children, but it's a precautionary measure," she said. "And we still want to be sure that our parents are being vigilant and that our parents are educating their children about the dangers that are out there."

Also among the new OffenderWatch features are automatic email alerts when a sex criminal moves into a neighborhood.

The OffenderWatch site is fully searchable, and allows you to locate someone using phone numbers and even email addresses.

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