Authorities praise sex offender app

County authorities are praising a new mobile app that will help residents pinpoint the location of area sex offenders.

The N.C. Department of Justice launched a “North Carolina Sex Offender Registry” app this month that provides citizens a first-hand, live look at where registered sex offenders live.

The app uses mapping technology to literally pinpoint where sex offenders live relative to the user's current location. It also allows a user to search for particular addresses and streets.

“It’s fantastic,” said Tom Scarborough, head of the sex offender registry unit and electronic home arrest at the Catawba County Sheriff’s Office.

The sheriff's office has already received multiple tips from citizens using the app, including one that led to authorities to a sex offender who was in violation, Scarborough said.

“It’s going to help a lot,” he said. “When you’ve got citizens with that type of technology, it’s great. It’s getting information to them quickly. The sooner you know, it’s going to be an advantage to you and help protect your children.”

The app, which is available for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, uses information that local sheriffs submit to the N.C. Sex Offender Registry. By utilizing the user’s current location, the app pinpoints offenders’ addresses and names in a one-, three-, or five-mile radius.

Clicking on an offender’s name allows users to view detailed information, including photos and a physical description. An additional click on the offenses button pulls up a list of the offender’s crimes requiring registration, including the age of the victim(s).

Users can also sign up to receive email alerts whenever a registered offender moves near their home, local school, day care center or any other address they choose, or to receive alerts about a particular sex offender.

Using the app, The O-N-E found 40 sex offenders within a three-mile radius of its office in Newton.

A search around Newton-Conover Middle School found seven offenders within one mile, 34 offenders within three miles and 61 offenders within five miles of the school.

The closest offender from the school was David Lee Foy, 57, of 2301 N. Anderson Ave., who was convicted of having indecent liberties with a minor in 1999.

Attorney General Roy Cooper said the app was designed to increase safety and awareness for citizens.

“Knowing where sex offenders live can help you plan for you and your children’s safety,” Cooper said. “Families are on the go and we need to make this critical safety information available to them where they are.”

Like the N.C. Sex Offender Registry website, the app does not include details on out-of-state crimes committed by offenders registered in North Carolina. Users have to go to that state’s sex offender registry to determine the underlying convictions for out-of-state offenses.

There are currently nearly 14,000 registered sex offenders in North Carolina. By law, they are required to register with their local sheriff’s office and to update the information that is made available to the public through the registry.

However, a sex offender can change residences and many offenders move frequently. State officials say the app will update all changed information automatically.

Catawba County houses about 240 of the state’s offenders, Scarborough said. With such a large group to handle, he said citizen tips are integral to his job.

“There are constant violators and having this technology in citizens’ hands will help us do our job better,” he said. “The citizens are basically an arm of the sheriff’s department. Most of the arrests we make are coming from tips from the citizens.”