State law says sex offenders can’t live within 2,000 feet of a school or day care, but what if that school or day care is closed due to flood damage? Major Brian Gardner of the Linn County Sheriff’s Office says it’s a question law officers are wrestling with all over eastern Iowa.
Major Gardner says, "Since we know there aren’t children there, does that open that area back up?" The Linn County Sheriff’s Office is searching for several sex offenders who haven’t checked in after last month’s floods. So far, nearly 30 sex offenders in the county notified the sheriff that they’re moving, but five of them haven’t checked in at all and face jail time, if police can even find them.
Gardner says the computerized mapping software that showed the areas where sex offenders can and can’t live was damaged by the flooding. Gardner explains, "With the mapping software, you bring up the map and you go to your geographical area and it pinpoints who is living where."
The damaged computer server should be repaired next week. Until then, the sheriff’s office is telling sex offenders simply to report their residence, then check to see if it’s okay to live there later. Denise Covington and her daughter, Gabrielle Watkins, once found safety in the fact Taylor Elementary School sits two blocks away from their Cedar Rapids house, meaning, no sex offender could live nearby.
However, the flood shut down the school for the upcoming year, so Watkins says that protection from sexual predators might no longer be valid. Watkins says, "It kind of seems like maybe they’re taking advantage of the fact that the city is in chaos right now." Covington says, even if the law remains in place for closed schools, the boundary that once kept her safe might be useless.
Covington says, "You know, if they’re moving around, I don’t know how they’ll be able to keep up with them." Law officers are appealing to state leaders to consider changing the boundary law. Instead of limiting where sex offenders can live, police want to set up safe zones to tell sex offenders where they can’t be at all. The soonest that would come would be during the legislative session starting in January of 2009.