The Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office and the Helena Police Department are introducing a new tool to track registered sexual and violent offenders.
On Thursday, Sheriff Leo Dutton and HPD Lt. Brett Petty demonstrated the agencies’ new online system managed through the nationwide company OffenderWatch.
“This demonstrates partnership with the community,” said Dutton. “We care about who’s in our community, and we care about the citizens that live here. That’s what this will show.”
The public can now search online for any sexual or violent offenders living in their neighborhoods. The database includes offenders’ names, addresses, physical descriptions and what they were convicted of. Sexual offenders’ photos are also included. State law does not permit violent offenders’ photos to be added.
Residents can also sign up to receive email notifications when a new offender moves in.
LCSO and HPD previously had their own database of offenders, but it was all made up of paper files. When Lewis and Clark County signed a contract with OffenderWatch last year, it allowed agencies to access that company’s national database.
“What Offender Watch allowed us to do was go digital,” said Petty. “So now there’s a digital database out there. Anyone that’s signed up with OffenderWatch can look in there and see who we have.”
HPD records clerk Dana Dopp was responsible for digitizing almost 500 offenders’ files.
OffenderWatch partners with more than 3,500 law enforcement agencies in 37 states. Dutton said joining their system will help local law enforcement monitor offenders moving in from other areas. It will make it easier for other agencies to alert LCSO or HPD if an offender leaves an area and they believe the person is coming to Lewis and Clark County.
“Before, there were many times that did not happen, so we had sexual and violent offenders living here that weren’t necessarily honest and we never knew anything about,” Dutton said. “This will cut down on that substantially.”
The system will also allow officers in the field to get up-to-date information, including photos, on their smartphones or other devices. That can be especially helpful when they are conducting compliance checks on an offender.
“It’s worth it,” said Dutton. “It’s worth it to have the ability – the citizens to be able to check, and deputies and officers to be able to have current information, real-time, and pictures when they go out to look at someone.”
-Reported by Jonathon Ambarian/MTN News