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W.Va. Web site includes sex offenders' addresses

August 04, 2005|by CANDICE BOSLEY

MARTINSBURG, W.VA.

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

The old saying that "everybody knows everyone else in this town" just isn't true anymore in most communities, and many people don't even know their neighbors.

Those with children tend to keep them a little closer to home, probably in part because of national scares involving child abductions, rapes and murders.

In West Virginia, worried parents now can check the West Virginia State Police's Web site to see if any convicted sex offenders live nearby. The site recently was updated to include offenders' exact addresses instead of just a hometown.

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Searches can be done by name, address, city or county. Individual listings provide each offender's photograph, age, physical description and street address, as well as information about the victim, including gender.

Victims' exact ages are not given, but are broken down into ranges of 0-5 years old, 6-12 years old, 13-17 years old or an adult.

The site also lists when people were convicted, how much time, if any, they served in prison or jail, and whether they are now under supervision.

"I think it's something that the public can use and they do need it," said Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely.

Those living in communities with a sex offender tend to keep an eye on the person and sometimes notify police if they see children entering the home or if the person moves, Games-Neely said.

"In some instances, the neighborhoods are our eyes and ears," she said.

She stressed, however, that sex offenders should not be intimidated or harassed.

Many of those who take the time to register with police are not repeat offenders, and some are those who committed offenses like having consensual sex with a minor they might later marry, which some people might not consider to be too serious of a crime, Games-Neely said.

Instead, she said, the site should be used so parents ensure they are not allowing their children to visit with a sex offender, or have an offender work as a baby sitter.

She said those who discover they are living near a sex offender should ask themselves some questions, including: How long has the offender been living there and have they ever had any problems with the person?

"You have an obligation to keep yourself safe, but you don't have the right to start something," she said.

Games-Neely said that while there are no sex offenders living in her neighborhood, others who work in her office do live near such a person.

"It's just a fact of life in this jurisdiction," she said, noting that many offenders have moved from another state.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the Web site listed 75 sex offenders living in Berkeley County, including three men who are wanted by police. The site lists another nine people who live elsewhere but work in Martinsburg or in the county.

Thirty-nine registered sex offenders live in Jefferson County, including one who is being sought by police.

Morgan County is home to 25 sex offenders, according to the site.

Statewide, there are 2,024 sex offenders in 55 counties.

Gilmer County has the fewest number of registered sex offenders (five), while Kanawha County, including the state capital of Charleston, has the most (257).

Berkeley County ranks as the county with the sixth-highest number of offenders.

Police asked those trying to access the Web site to use patience.

On Aug. 1, when the Web site was updated to include offenders' street addresses, the number of people trying to access it increased from an average of 86,000 a day to 320,000.

Information about sex offenders has been online since 1998.

To look up offenders, go to www.wvstatepolice.com and click on the "Sex Offenders" link.

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