Social media has the ability to open doors, and some of those who may be trying to come through those doors and into the lives of children are coming under special scrutiny from a two-person team of Webster Parish law enforcement officers.
“We’re cracking down on sex offenders who are on social media sites like Facebook, and we’re looking for help from the public,” Capt. Debbie Haynes, head of the parish sheriff office’s sex offender unit said. “We’re planning to hand-deliver a letter to those who are registered telling them they have 24-hours to take down their Facebook page or go to jail.”
Haynes, along with Deputy Victoria Chreene, keeps track of a list of 105 registered sex offenders in Webster Parish. It’s a list that is growing with 22 sex offenders who are currently incarcerated in the parish about to be added.
Sex offenders have been found on Facebook, and the majority of them are using the site simply to communicate with others, Haynes said. But a state law passed by the Louisiana legislature in 2012 requires these individuals to include “sex offender” in their profile or face arrest.
“They hide their names and use other names … it’s getting to be a big thing to get on Facebook,” Haynes said. “A lot of them are just talking and not doing anything wrong. But if you have a Facebook page, by law, you must say in your profile that you’re a sex offender. If you do that, Facebook will delete you.”
Haynes said someone in the public who is on the site might recognize individuals who are using a fake name.
“That’s why we’re asking the public for assistance,” she said. “There are people who are on Facebook alot more than we are because there’s only two of us. If they recognize someone and that person is using an alias, they should let us know.”
All sex offenders, regardless of the nature of the crime, are required to register with law enforcement, other institutions, including school boards and must have a notice of their registration published in a newspaper. Under the law, sex offenders come in three categories, or tiers, Haynes said.
“Tier 1 includes offenses where perhaps a boyfriend is slightly older than his girlfriend, who is underage. Indecent behavior is also a Tier 1 offense,” Haynes said. “Tier 1 offenders must register for 15 years and must report to law enforcement once each year.”
Tier II offenders are those individuals convicted of an offense punishable by more than one year in prison, which include using minors in a sexual performance, soliciting a minor for prostitution, producing or distributing child pornography or sex trafficking.
Tier II sex offenders must register for 25 years and must appear every six months, Haynes said.
Haynes said a Tier III offender is the most serious classification. Offenses in Tier III include aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse or abusive sexual contact against a minor under the age of 13 and kidnapping a minor, unless the perpetrator is a parent or guardian.
Tier III offenders must register for life and must appear every three months.
In most cases, sex offender laws carry more punch than other crimes, Haynes said.
“If an offender must register for 15 years in Louisiana, serves 10 of those and then moves to Texas, he must register in that state with the appropriate agency and continue to report every year. If he stays in Texas for five years and moves back here, he isn’t finished with his registration responsibilities in the eyes of Louisiana law. He must do the five he did not complete in this state,” Haynes said.
Haynes said probation is “a pretty good tool for us with sex offenders because they’re checked all the time. For instance, I have no say so on who these (offenders) live with but Probation and Parole does. They can walk right into their residence without a warrant and check anything…their computer, cell phone, anything.”
Public involvement is going to be a big help as the caseload for Haynes and Chreene continues to increase.
“We’re getting more and more sex offenders, and we want the public to be aware. I wouldn’t say it’s an epidemic, but one is too many. We need more eyes and ears,” Haynes said. “It’s helpful for us and, at the same time, it helps the parents know what their kids are up to.”