There are 5,926 registered sex offenders in Oklahoma. Their crimes range from child rape to urinating in public. Once they serve their time in prison and on probation, they continue to live among us, going places that may surprise you.
"There are sexual offenders amongst us at all times, just like there are criminals amongst us at all times," said Capt. Dexter Nelson with the Oklahoma City Police Department. "You can't tell a sexual offender by looking at them."
Nelson said there are over 1,100 registered sex offenders in the city alone, each classified by the severity of their crimes, level one, two or three. Level three is the most serious classification of sex offenses, which includes habitual and violent offenders. Under state law, convicted sex offenders are required to register with law enforcement, the duration depend on their risk level.
Level 1 sex offenders: required to register yearly for 15 years.
Level 2 sex offenders: required to register every 6 months for 25 years.
Level 3 sex offenders: required to register every 90 days for life.
"Most people when they hear the word ‘sex offender' they just go red, and they think the worst of the worst," said Defense Attorney David Slane.
Despite the levels, though, Slane believes 80 to 90 percent of all offenders are lumped together in level three, the worst, like one of his clients.
"It wasn't living at all," said Slane's client, who wanted to remain anonymous. He was convicted of peeking at an underage girl in a tanning bed. He spent 30 days in jail and had to register as a sex offender.
"Can't go to ball games, can't go to functions, basically you just can't live," he said.
Even after they serve out their prison and probation time, all registered sex offenders must abide by certain rules. Those rules that require them to live and work at least 2,000 feet away from parks, playgrounds, schools, daycares and campgrounds. If their crime involved a child, they can't even hang out in those areas. The sex offender we talked to didn't take a chance.
"Purposely, I stayed away from anything I thought could be used or where I could be accused of anything that could put me back to where I didn't want to be," he said.
But what's stopping other offenders?
"A sex offender may end up in a park. They may end up in a school. They may end up in places that are prohibited for them to be," said Nelson.
And that is OK, in most cases, as long as they have a legitimate reason to be there, like taking a child to school. They can also go to restaurants, shopping malls, festivals, amusement parks and even church. However, Slane says they have to be careful.
"If you know that you're going to an event that's for children, there's a problem," Slane said.
He says this shows the registry is not a guarantee.
"The sex offender registry will give you a false sense of security," said Slane. "Just because somebody registers as a sex offender, does not mean your children are safe."
That's why police say to stay aware and report anything suspicious.
"We simply don't have enough manpower to track people in addition trying to catch people committing crimes," said Nelson.
Police say if you see something that looks suspicious, you should call 911. If you have a concern regarding an offender, you can call (405) 297-1197.
Meanwhile, on Nov. 1, the Department of Corrections is rolling out a new offender registration system. We'll keep you updated on that once more information is released.