Wednesday, April 13, 2005

TOP STORY>> Sheriff fights abusers with limited funds

IN SHORT>> Rural White County is seeing a rising number of sex offenders.

Leader staff writer

Living out in the country in the nation’s Bible Belt isn’t as safe as it used to be. Just ask White County Sheriff Pat Garrett. He is keeping a close eye on sex offenders in White County while struggling to combat potential sexual predators.

Garrett said when he began policing in White County in 1994, he would be surprised if there were more than 40,000 people in the county. Now there’s over 70,000 and some of them are sexual offenders.

“I just asked the quorum court for money for an additional person dedicated to sex crimes investigation but they said no,” Garrett said.
“I’m doing the best with what I got.”

Drug abuse in White County, particularly methamphetamine abuse, is “absolutely” one of the leading factors in sex crimes, says Garrett.

Meth users describe an increase in libido while on the drug, but a decrease in sexual function. That, paired with the physical agitation, can lead to violent sexual behavior with drug use.

Garrett credits social awareness and concerned people getting the victims of sex offenders the help they need. All registered sex offenders in Arkansas are required to submit to assessment by the sex offender screening and risk assessment program coordinated by the Ark-ansas Department of Correction. Each offender is assigned a risk level based on the results of the assessment.

Based on information obtained from the risk assessment process, offenders are assigned the following levels: Level 1 — low risk; Level 2 — moderate risk; Level 3 — high risk, and Level 4 — sexually violent predator. Offenders failing to submit to assessment are assigned default Risk Level 3.

As part of the Sex Offender Registration Act of 1997, the Arkansas Crime Information Center lists Level 3 and 4 sex offenders on its Web site, including those who commit crimes against children.

Last week in White County, two men were sentenced in separate cases to five years each for soliciting sex from teenagers over the Internet in 2004.

The 14-year-old girls the men chatted with online were, in fact, detectives from the White County Sheriff’s Department. The detectives visit chat rooms, hoping to catch an online predator by posing as their favorite prey, teens.