“We have to go to the books and figure out what laws and what restrictions must be placed on each individual,” Morris said.
According to Morris, 81 percent of all registered sex offenders living in Floyd County have no restrictions placed on where they can be, largely because of changes in state law.
“Floyd County is going to see a huge number of sex offenders in the community with zero proximity restrictions. They can live directly across from a church or across from a day care and there are absolutely no restrictions at all,” Morris said.
The passage of several new state laws changes some of the restrictions put on convicted sex offenders, including where offenders live and work. The new guidelines are often referred to as the Sex Offender Matrix.
Law enforcement now use a proximity restrictions worksheet to help identify whether or not an offender is breaking the law.
Offenders arrested for crimes committed before June 4, 2003, have no proximity restrictions, but notify the sheriff’s office if they change jobs or move within 72 hours of any changes.
Those arrested on or after July 1, 2008, have the most residency restrictions and cannot live within 1000 feet of public and private preschool facilities, churches, schools and libraries.
Both Morris and Lt. Mark Blanton spend the majority of their work week making sure not only that the offenders abide by the law, but that the officers themselves are placing the proper restrictions on offenders.
However, while laws restrict where an offender can live, they don’t prevent an offender from moving into a community where families also live. Morris and Blanton said they often receive panic calls from community members concerned that an offender has moved in next door.
“There is nothing we can do. They have these rights,” said Morris.
“There is nothing that says they can’t attend school functions or ball game, as long as they are doing something any reasonable and prudent person would do,” Blanton added.
Often, Blanton said, concerned citizens are confusing sex offenders with sex predators. Floyd County only has three listed “predators” and two of them are behind bars, Morris said.