SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Beginning next month, sheriff's offices across Missouri will be able to post pictures of convicted sex offenders in their communities on the internet.
Gov. Matt Blunt (search) on Friday signed into law legislation that expressly allows law enforcement to include the pictures on department web sites.
Greene County Sheriff Jack Merritt (search) has posted the pictures in the past, but pulled them last year after being threatened with a lawsuit. He said he welcomed the new law and that his office would act Aug. 28.
"The timing on this is just really crucial because we've seen so many of the abductions, kidnappings and killings of small children," he said. "It just seems like weekly there's something in the news about this."
Christine Fitz, who manages Greene County's sex offender registry, said posting the pictures, as opposed to just names and addresses, would help children avoid those people.
"They forget the names, but they recognize photographs of people," said Fitz, whose registry includes 900 sex offenders. About 150 of those are in jail, and another 50 people should be on the list but have not yet registered, as required by law.
Attorney James Umbarger (search) threatened to sue the sheriff's office over the photos last year, saying state law didn't specifically allow it for county sheriffs. He said Friday he will continue to object to putting the photos online, saying having the photos publicly available hinder rehabilitation and unfairly focuses on certain crimes.
"I suspect most folks aren't looking at the registry, scrutinizing their neighbors, their co-workers," he said.
Besides adding the pictures, the new law allows sheriffs to redesign their Web pages to let users search for offenders by address and other information.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol registry allows searches by name, street, city, county or ZIP code. That registry also is expected to include photos by September.