Lawton_Last year, Lawton Police were forced to tell sex offenders that they could not live in about 95% of Lawton city limits. But, a change in state law that goes into effect today loosens that restriction and creates new requirements for sex offenders. It includes getting a new Oklahoma drivers license with the words "sex offender" printed on it. The new law also creates a tiered system which splits sex offenders into three different categories based on what crime they committed.
Like most law enforcement agencies in Oklahoma, Lawton Police say they are still learning how they are supposed to enforce these changes. And, if you look at the law it's easy to understand why. This time last year, sex offenders were told they couldn't live within 2,000 feet of schools, public parks and daycares. That meant that they could not live in most of Lawton or other Oklahoma cities.
"The problem we have now is because there are so few places for registered sex offenders to live, they're not telling us where they live, or they give us an address that's in that five-percent, but they're living somewhere else," says Lawton Deputy Chief Michael Johnson. Or, they didn't register at all. LPD says it filed more charges for that this year - while at the same time, the city's sex offender registry began to decline in numbers.
"Maybe saying they're living with their parents or a friend in a proper place," says Johnson. "But they're not actually living there, and they may be living next door to you and you may not know it," he says.
This year, lawmakers made some changes that will free up places for offenders to live. Beginning Thursday, schools and parks are still off limits, but daycares have to be centers. DHS tells Lawton Police that a center is a facility which cares for more than 12 children - but that's not spelled out in the law. "What is interpreted as one thing today, may be determined as something else by the courts tomorrow," says Johnson.
This is why police say there could be more changes. They're also learning about the new tier system which separates offenders based on their crimes and how long they must register. Police have already realized that some non-violent offenses are being placed in the worst category - meaning, they'll have to register for life. This includes a man convicted of streaking. "We knew this law was coming, but we did not realize the changes and all the attention we were going to have to apply to this law," says Johnson.
LPD says the Department of Corrections is already in the process of notifying sex offenders of these changes.
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