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County has 98 sex offenders

There are 98 convicted adult sex offenders currently residing Covington County.

Each of those 95 men and three women live on corners in Andalusia, Opp, Florala, Red Level and all points in between – and they have been convicted of egregious crimes such as rape and the sexual abuse of a child. Some have more than one victim; others more than one conviction.

Twice a year, each must register their home and work addresses with the Covington County Sheriff’s Office.

Their cooperation is mandated under two sections of law – one, which states all convicted sex offenders will register with the county sheriff’s office; and two, the Alabama Community Notification Act (CNA). Passed in 1996. The CNA is designed “to provide true protection of Alabama families and children from dangerous sex offenders,” according to attorney general’s office.

“The purpose that the legislature passed the law was that historically, those who commit sexual offenses have a high recidivism rate, which means they have a high probability of recommitting the same crime,” said CCSO investigator Wesley Snodgrass, who along with Investigator Howard West, is assigned to handle sex offender compliance for the CCSO. In both Opp and Andalusia, one officer is tasked with this assignment. The Alabama Department of Public Safety (DPS) is also tasked with compiling a list of all registered sex offenders in the state.

“(The county) acts as a fail safe in making sure these offenders are following the letter of the law,” Snodgrass said. “(Offenders) are still required to register in the municipality in which they live. Most of the people we have registered are from Covington County. Some are from other areas who have moved here, and while our numbers seem high when compared to that of our neighboring counties, it’s because we are diligent in our effort to keep up with all convicted sex offenders in Covington County.”

The message behind the law is simple – protect the people.

Any person convicted of a criminal sexual offense such as rape, sodomy, sexual abuse, solicitation or enticing a child, or all whose victim was under the age of 12, is required to declare their address – in writing – 30 days prior to moving to Alabama.

It doesn’t matter if the offender is leaving prison or moving from another state, Snodgrass said.

“And yes, we’ve had to arrest people for non-compliance as soon as they were released from prison, because they failed to give us a verifiable address,” he said.

Those addresses cannot be within 2,000 feet of a school or childcare facility, according to state law.

If a person’s conviction involves children, no children can live in the household, he said.

The same requirement guidelines apply for the offender’s workplace.

“Those guidelines aren’t met, (the offender) can’t live there, or they can’t work there,” he said. “It’s that simple.” In turn, law enforcement is required by law to notify the community when a sex offender is moving into the neighborhood. In cities with a population greater than 5,000, such as Andalusia and Opp, residents within 1,500 feet of the offender’s residence are to be notified, as are schools and day cares located within three miles of the declared residence. In areas with a population of less than 5,000 such as Florala, those living within 2,000 feet of the offender’s residence are notified.

For Sgt. Ray Dixon, Andalusia Police Department’s sex offender compliance officer and a criminal investigator, that process is as simple as “knocking on a door.”

“We hand them a flier, usually the one from the DPS website, and use it to inform them of someone moving into the neighborhood,” Dixon said. “Most of the time, they’re thankful to us for letting them know. Usually they ask about if that person is a threat or not, but all we can tell them is the information that’s on the flier.”

Offenders must go through the registration process twice a year – once in their birth month and then again in six months following; however, the notification process only occurs when the offender moves to a new verifiable address. The exception are those classified as “sexual predators,” who are required to register every three months. In Covington County, there is one person – Ricky Harrison Jr. – who meets that qualification. Harrison, 55, is currently incarcerated in the Covington County Jail.

And in the instances when offenders do not comply with the law, there are a “plethora” of issues that follow, Snodgrass said. “Non-compliance is, and continues, to be an issue with sex offenders,” he said. “Of the 98 registered sex offenders we have, 34 of those have been prosecuted for non-compliance of the community notification act, and seven of those have been prosecuted more than twice.”

Which goes to show exactly how important these laws are, both Dixon and Snodgrass agreed.

The information on any convicted sex offender in Alabama can be found at covingtonso.com or on the DPS website at www.dps.state.al.us.

In cities with a population of 5,000 or more, such as Andalusia and Opp, all persons within 1,500 feet of offender’s residence are to be notified, as are all schools and childcare facilities within three miles of the declared residence. Offenders are also required to register with their local police department, as well as sheriff’s office.

For other municipalities with population of 5,000 or less, such as Florala, that distance is increased to 2,000 feet offender’s residence.

Notification is generally done in the form of a Alabama Department of Public Safety (DPS) flyer. It can be sent by regular mail or hand delivered to residences within the guidelines. In addition, any other method reasonably expected to provide notification may be utilized, including, but not limited to, posting a copy of the notice in a prominent place at the sheriff’s office or a law enforcement agency closest to the offender’s residence, publicizing the notice in a local newspaper, or posting it electronically, including on the Internet, or other means available.Covington County registered sex offenders