Five sex offenders living illegally next to Columbia schools
COLUMBIA - There are 300 convicted sex offenders living in Boone County. The majority of them live there legally, but five who are living illegally next to schools have slipped through the cracks due to what the Boone County Sheriff's Department calls a "miscommunication."
The five offenders are living illegally close to Blue Ridge Elementary School in northeast Columbia, West Middle School in west Columbia, and Down to Earth Preschool in south Columbia.
Sex offenders are required to report their addresses to the Boone County Sheriff's Department, which is responsible for tracking them. That department publishes those addresses in an online, public database.
But officials at the sheriff's department didn't know about the five offenders until KOMU 8 analyzed the publicly available data and brought it to the department's attention. Detective and Sex Offender Coordinator Jessica Jameson said the department is doing its best with a limited staff.
"We really try to do the best we can, but our best isn't always good enough," Jameson said.
Registered sex offenders convicted after 2004 in Missouri or after 2008 in another state are not allowed to live within 1,000 feet of a school or daycare under Boone County's interpretation of a federal law. But all have to register a minimum twice a year, or every 90 days in the case of a child sex offender.
In Boone County, the process of keeping track of where sex offenders live is mainly handled by the sheriff's Geographic Information System, or GIS, section. The sheriff's office uses computer mapping to find where offenders live in relation to schools.
But until about six months ago, the system measured from the center of the properties instead of measuring from property line to property line.
Some school grounds are so large that measuring from the center of the school out 1,000 feet doesn't even make it off the property.
"We had conveyed to GIS how we needed it and we just assumed that's how it was, and it was just a miscommunication between the two," Jameson said. "It wasn't malicious in how we were doing it in giving anyone a break. It was generally a miscommunication between people."
Though the system was corrected to measure from property line to property line, it still does not automatically inform officers if an offender is living too close. Deputies have to check each address individually to verify the information. But there are only two people monitoring the locations of 300 sex offenders. There hasn't been time to go back and check each individual since the measurements were redone.
"Some of them we just haven't caught, and it's not, I mean we just haven't caught them," Jameson said.
Columbia Public School District Community Relations Director, Michelle Baumstark, said the school district doesn't track sex offenders' locations.
"The law says what it says," Baumstark said. "So we rely on local law enforcement to make sure that that law is being upheld."
Schools depend on law enforcement for information on sex offenders.
Kevin Robertson is the superintendent for Hallsville Public School District. He said the schools cannot do much more than what they are already doing.
"We rely on law enforcement to do their job, too, and so those folks, the offenders, are required to register with the county," Robertson said. "And then, law enforcement is required to check up on that and make sure they're following those laws. We all kind of work together and hope that everybody does what they are supposed to do."
The Boone County Sheriff's Department is looking into the situation and says the five offenders will be notified if they have to move.