There are 200 sex offenders registered in Lincoln County as of Aug. 9.
Divided by Lincoln County’s general population of 56,000 people, there’s almost one sex offender for every 280 people in the county.
“People ask me all the time, ‘why do we have so many sex offenders in Lincoln County?’” said Lieutenant Andy Binder, Public Information Officer for the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office. “And I will come back and say, one: our location. We are close to work – St. Charles County, St. Louis County.”
But it goes beyond just a decent commute, Binder said.
“State laws are pushing sex offenders out of areas that are close to schools, daycares, parks, public places, and it’s very difficult to find a home in these urban areas that doesn’t have multiple school districts around,” Binder said. “So they need to find a rural area to where they can have the distance to comply with the Missouri state law, and they find themselves living in Lincoln County. A lot of our sex offenders live out in rural Lincoln County.”
For comparison, nearby Warren County has one sex offender for every 400 people (with 84 sex offenders registered in a population of 34,400), and the much-larger St. Charles County has one sex offender for every 1000 people (with 393 sex offenders registered in a population of 395,500).
Binder also shared that Lincoln County is in the middle of a housing boom, which provides a lot of places to live at a reasonable price for offenders wanting to comply with the state laws. Because of the constant high number of registered sex offenders, the Sheriff’s Office has a detective dedicated solely to enforcing compliance among that population.
Levels of Offenders
Last year, Missouri adopted the federal guidelines for its sex offender registry, which changes the system by categorizing sex offenders into three different tiers.
Tier One sex offenders are from the most minor offenses, such as possession of child pornography, and are required to come into the Sheriff’s Office to register once per year during their birth month for a period of at least 15 years. Tier Two offenders have to register every six months for 25 years; examples from this tier include molestation charges or statutory sodomy.
Tier Three offenders are those who commit statutory rape, sexual assaults and generally the most “devious” crimes, as Binder described.
He said that all the most egregious child sex crimes are found in Tier Three, and those offenders have to register once every 90 days for life. There are 163 Tier Three offenders in Lincoln County.
Registering when required is only one part of compliance. The assigned detective also ensures that offenders report all their online identifiers (social media accounts), email, update the department on their employment situation as well as what vehicles they have access to.
One man specifically assigned to keeping track of 200 offenders may seem out of balance, but Binder said that other rural counties often don’t have the funds to hire anyone to focus on compliance.
“When we’re talking about a rural perspective of managing sex offenders, it’s the haves versus the have-nots,” Binder said. “So those who have a budget for personnel to specifically deal with sex offenders, those counties often are the most successful at getting them to comply.”
The system contains flaws that also cause “heartache” for local law enforcement; for example, if a sex offender puts in for a jurisdictional transfer to Lincoln County, but never shows up or lives in the county, Lincoln County is still held responsible.
Missouri House Representative Randy Pietzman worked on passing legislation during the 2019 house session that would help with jurisdictional transfers, addressing one problem in a system that can be hard to keep up with in more rural areas.
The legislation would require an offender who applied to move to a different county to leave their driver’s license at the Sheriff’s Office of their current county. They have three days from that point to go and register in the county they’re moving too, and once they comply their license would be sent to them via mail. In the meantime, they would have a dated receipt to act as a license until their real one was returned to them.
“This bill is about raising awareness and starting a conversation. Anytime we can force these guys to register, it takes off some of the responsibility and resources that are on our law enforcement departments,” Pietzman said. “It’s a win-win situation for both law enforcement and citizens as it adds another layer of protection. Because most of the times when these guys are caught, they just get a slap on the wrist and are told to go register.”
The legislation did not pass this session, but Pietzman said he plans to continue to push for it in future terms.
Lincoln County law enforcement agencies along with Mike Wood’s prosecutor’s office have all expressed determination to continue enforcing compliance and handing out appropriate punishment when that compliance is broken.
When asked if there are offenders who may fabricate new online identities to attempt to put the past behind them, Binder commented that while he certainly believed there were offenders like that out there, he had yet to meet one.
“So when you talk about sex offenders, we really have to be very diligent in the way we handle them, the way we make sure they comply. Because they’re wired this way,” Binder said, referring to those offenders who were charged in connection to child sex crimes. “Those who have addiction to child pornography, those who have sexually deviant thoughts involving kids are wired that way. That’s just the way that they think, and they’re always thinking about it.”
Lincoln County currently has a reoffend rate of 11 percent, the majority of which results from offenders not registering.
While managing those offenders and registration comes after a crime has been committed, when it comes to sex crimes, Lincoln County does not only deal with the end of the picture.
According to Binder 70 percent of all the cases investigated by the detectives of the department are sex crimes, and of that 70 percent, 90 percent are related to children. As of July 24, the sheriff’s department had 30 open sex crime cases, with 27 of those involving children.
Amy Robins, Supervisor of Forensic Services at the Child Advocacy Center (CAC) in Wentzville, shared that a majority of sex crimes are committed against children, so the fact that 90 percent of the sex crimes in Lincoln County involved kids did not surprise her. The percentage of interest is that 70 percent of all the cases investigated by the sheriff’s department are sex crimes, because at first glance the number appears extremely high.
The CAC where Robins works specializes in giving forensic interviews to kids who have suffered traumatic events, usually sexually related. The interviews are done in a manner to protect the psyche of the child while still uncovering essential information about their experiences. These interviews are video recorded and are allowed to be submitted as evidence in court. So far in 2019, Lincoln County has had 93 children (ages 17 and under) complete forensic interviews. In 2018, Lincoln County had 140 kids take forensic interviews. The CAC services 14 counties in the Northeast area of Missouri, including Warren and St. Charles County who have had 23 and 193 forensic interviews respectively this year. In 2018, Warren County had 56 children go in for interviews. Lastly, St. Charles County, in 2018 with a population of 395,500, had 401 children participate in a forensic interview.
This type of data only accounts for child sex crimes brought to the CAC, with some of the interviews also helping children with other forms of victimization like physical abuse and domestic violence. However, all three counties utilize the CAC for most of their cases, and with Warren and Lincoln Counties having semi-similar demographics, Lincoln County still has a noticeably higher amount of cases.
“It’s not just an annual thing, that’s just all the time. I don’t know what it is about the water in Lincoln County, but I’ve never worked in an agency, a community that had so many child sex crimes. It’s been going on since 2006 when I started working here,” Binder said, “We just had a high number of child sex crimes committed in this county…and even though we have excellent conviction rates and we let the community know who’s doing this and how this is happening – we still have a lot. It’s a great question, it’s one of those unsolved mysteries. I mean we solve the crimes, but the meaning behind it…why?”
Editor's Note: This is Part One of a two-part report. The second part will be published in the August 20 edition of the Lincoln County Journal.