Authorities said a loophole in Oklahoma law allows a Pawnee County sex offender to live near a park. It was something a judge said was okay all because of the way the law is written, but one state senator said she is vowing to change it.
The senate bill will go before the public safety committee after a judge noticed misleading wording and then a district attorney brought it to the attention of lawmakers.
Just like there are loops and slides in a playground, officials said there are also loopholes and ways criminals can slide right past the law. It's how sex offenders can live anywhere, including right next door to a playground. All they have to do is live in the right community.
It boils down to two words; town and city.
“The difference between city and town in the state statute,” State Senator AJ Griffin said.
That slight difference in word choice, or the exclusion of one, was how some sex offenders were able to live wherever they want. The discovery was made by an Oklahoma judge during a sex offender's court appearance about his parole and where he could live after just getting out of prison for sexually abusing a young girl. Court officials said the offender lives in a town and not a city.
“He is still being allowed to live across the street from this town park, because this small community wasn't included in the statute according to the judge who was interpreting it,” Griffin said.
So now, Griffin said she is working to duplicate the language of Title 21 and Title 57 to include towns and close the loophole.
Griffin said the adjustment will also include playgrounds in neighborhoods and homeowner associations.
Attorney David Slane is an expert at picking apart state laws like these.
“First, if they've owned the property before the private playground is established I think that there is an argument that they sold the property to them, and they owned it before the park was there,” Slane said.
But ultimately, he said he believes there's really only one surefire way to protect children; the watchful eye of a parent.
“Being on this registry and governing people doesn't necessarily make us any safer,” Slane said. “If someone is going to commit a crime where they live has nothing to do with it.”
Lawmakers hoped the new wording will take effect on July 1.