Results from a two-day operation to locate registered sex offenders in the River Valley were released Thursday (Sept. 19).
U.S. Marshal Cory Thomas reports law enforcement made contact at 495 residences in Sebastian and Crawford counties where sex offenders are registered and reported to be living. Eighteen offenders were found to be in violation of the sex offender registry because they are no longer living at their reported address and have not notified law enforcement.
Thomas said some of the offenders have been arrested. Law enforcement will be seeking arrests warrants for the others.
As Halloween nears, local law enforcement officers want to make sure area children are safe when they go trick-or-treating at strangers' homes.
According to Thomas, there are nearly 500 registered sex offenders in Crawford and Sebastian Counties. Detective Michael McCoy with the Fort Smith Police Department said 224 of those are living in Fort Smith.
For the past 48 hours, officers from a dozen agencies - including the U.S. Marshals Service, Arkansas State Police, Community Corrections, Probation and Parole, Federal Probation and Parole, Fort Smith Police Department, Van Buren Police Department, Alma Police Department, Greenwood Police Department, Barling Police Department, Sebastian County Sheriff's Office and Crawford County Sheriff's Office - have swept both counties to ensure sex offenders are living where they’re registered.
“A lot of times, if we have any belief that they’re not living there, we’ll ask permission to search the house, look at their rooms, where they live,” said Michael McCoy with the Fort Smith Police Department.
Thomas, a senior inspector for the U.S. Marshals Service, said some of the offenders they check on may be wanted for other crimes.
“We run all of those offenders to see who might have a warrant,” he said. “It might not be related to their sex offense at all. It might be a speeding ticket that they got. However, if we’re going to go make contact with them and they’ve got a warrant, we’re going to serve that warrant.”
It’s the third year for the sweep, dubbed "Operation Safe Scare.” It is held annually before Halloween.
“Kids going out on the street, knocking on doors. Most of them are supervised by their parents, but even their parents don’t know what doors that they’re going to and some of the houses that they’re going to,” Thomas said. “They don’t know if they’re sex offenders or not.”
About 83 percent of the offenders who have registered in the past three years have been convicted of a child sex crime, according to McCoy.
Officers will distribute signs for all sex offenders to hang on their door on Halloween, discouraging trick-or-treating at the residence.
“That’s just to help the public see these signs, and they should know this person is an offender and they may not want to take their kid to that door,” McCoy said.
Thomas said people are understandably concerned when a sex offender moves into their neighborhood, but offenders have the right to live where they choose as long as they’re abiding by the terms of their registry.
“We want to go out to ensure the public that even though there’s a sex offender living next door to you, we’re going to their house, we’re checking on them, and it gives the community a little peace of mind, I hope,” he said.
Many local law enforcement agencies in the area, as well as the state, have websites that allow the public to sign up for email alerts which will notify you if and when an offender moves into their neighborhood.