The state of Iowa has launched a new service which allows crime victims and others to receive text messages when a sex offender moves into or out of an area. Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Terry Cowman says the “Offender Watch” program allows users to track any of the state’s 5,700 convicted sex offenders who are on the Iowa Sex Offender Registry.

“Under Iowa law, (sex offenders) have five days to notify their local sheriff’s office of any move or any change in relevant information, including change of address, a change of the vehicle they drive, a change of employment or any scars, marks, tattoos or any change in physical description,” Cowman said.

Users of Offender Watch can register to receive text, voice or email notices and create “watches” based on their location or a specific offender. “The information available through the program is based on what the end-user decides what they want to receive,” Cowman explained.

“They can sign up for a radius search, a zip code search, a county search or they can go to a particular offender’s page and sign up for that offender’s movements.” An email notification system was launched in 2009. In the last fiscal year, that system sent more than 280,000 email notifications to users on the movements and changes in information made by offenders.

Cowman is expecting a lot of Iowans will sign up for the new text notices. He notes crime victims, school officials and employers are among the primary users of the “Offender Watch” program. Cowman warned that people shouldn’t rely on Offender Watch alone. He said some offenders don’t update their location as the law requires or they lie about where they really live.

The Iowa Sex Offender Registry was established in 1995.