Government & Politics

Audit: Missouri, Jackson County show improvement in keeping track of sex offenders

A new state audit released Monday shows law enforcement has improved in ensuring that sex offenders register, with much of the progress attributed to gains in Jackson County.

The report, from Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway, followed up on an October audit that found that last year, 1,259 sex offenders in Missouri — 7.9 percent of the 16,000 required to register — were missing. Sex offenders are required to register with police, verify their address and check-in at regular intervals if they move.

Over the course of nine months — from May to February of this year — that number dropped by 21 percent, according to the new audit. About 1,000 sex offenders’ whereabouts are still unknown.

Galloway attributed the improvement to increased enforcement. Police were checking up on more sex offenders that had not registered and issuing more arrest warrants to non-compliant offenders, according to the audit.

“Our audit last year found the information available in the public sex offender registry was not accurate. That’s an issue of public safety,” Galloway said in a statement. “Following the audit, law enforcement has worked to better locate and hold accountable sex offenders not following the law, as well as take steps to make sure information in the database is current.”

In Jackson County, the percentage of sex offenders who didn’t check in with police dropped from 20 percent to 17.4 percent. Of Missouri’s 114 counties and the city of St. Louis, Jackson County — at 2,075 — has the most sex offenders in the state.

The audit noted that the Missouri State Highway Patrol purchased software to increase the accuracy of its offender registry database. Its current vendor also made changes so that law enforcement can edit an offender’s status to non-compliant, which could lead to more arrests during traffic stops.

Galloway also lauded a bill signed by Gov. Mike Parson earlier in the month that would require some school volunteers like tutors, coaches, and library assistants to undergo background checks. The background checks could mean additional protection for minors, she said.

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Crystal Thomas covers Missouri politics for The Kansas City Star. An Illinois native and a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, she has experience covering state and local government.