A new state law that went into effect this month is expected to help law enforcement better hold sex offenders accountable and better protect Oklahoma’s children.
As of Nov. 1, sex offenders residing in a home with a minor child are now required to report to the statewide centralized Oklahoma Department of Human Services hotline. Previously, only the parent, step-parent or grandparent of a minor had to report to the hotline.
The bill was authored by Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond, at the request of DHS, according to a press release from the Oklahoma State Senate. “This was an oversight in our law that needed to be addressed to ensure law enforcement and DHS are aware of who sex offenders are living with when it comes to minors,” Pugh said in the press release.
Carter County Sheriff Chris Bryant said there have been several cases in the local area where registered sex offenders have been found to be living with a minor. This often occurs due to changing relationships, he said. Many times, offenders will begin a relationship with a significant other who has children from a previous marriage.
However, it is important that authorities know whether a minor is living in the same home as an offender for a variety of reasons.
In July, for example, an Ardmore man who was known to have a previous sex offender conviction for a crime against a child under the age of five was discovered illegally living with a child that was not his own.
“Depending on what the cases are and what their charges are depends on whether they can reside with children,” Bryant said. “Most of our sex offenders can’t have children — can’t be around children unless it’s specified. So this way, with this new law going into effect, we’ll be able to track who the kids are with in the residence.”
Registered sex offenders were supposed to disclose this information prior to the new law going into effect, but many of them did not, Bryant said. Per the new law, offenders are required to report to the hotline within three days of moving.
Failing to do so is considered a felony offense and is punishable by one to three years in the Department of Corrections’ custody.
In order to ensure offenders’ self-reporting compliance, OKDHS communications administrator Casey White said the Department of Corrections began asking for offenders’ OKDHS referral numbers when the law went into effect.
The numbers are provided to offenders upon completion of their call to the hotline, White said. OKDHS also updated its automated messaging system for the hotline at 1-800-522-3511 to include the number for self-reporting, she said.
According to DOC, there are currently 7,050 registered sex offenders in the state. However, there are also many who go unregistered — a problem Bryant said the Carter County area has encountered in the past.
Bryant said the sheriff’s office and the City of Ardmore have an ongoing database containing a list of known sex offenders in the area that helps them keep track of those not complying with the law. “If they’re not registering and we’re made aware of it, then we do actively look for them.”
With the new law in effect, authorities will further be able to actively protect the children in homes where they may be at risk as there will now be a similar, mandatory record of that information.
“We’ll be able to, more so now, be able to pinpoint and check on them and if there’s any kind of speculation of inappropriateness taking place, we’ll be able to focus on those situations,” Bryant said.
Bryant said he encourages anyone who notices anything unusual or concerning to call the Carter County Sheriff’s Office at 580-223-6014. “If you see something, say something,” he said.