Community Watchers Weigh in on Sex Offender Residency Requirements

All but a few Knox County elementary schools have registered sex offenders living within a mile. But according to a school security officer and a neighborhood watch leader, its not a problem in their communities.

If a parent found out that a registered sex offender was living 1,001 feet away from their child’s school, you might expect a reaction based out of fear. But for community watchdogs in Knoxville, fear is not often the case.

Most citizens are aware that a national sex offender registry exists. Those convicted of sexual offenses are usually required to register under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), which is a federal law. The Tennessee registry allows you to see a photo, an address, and information about why the person is on the registry.

Over 20 states have enacted residency restrictions for those on the registry. In Tennessee, no sex offender, regardless of whether their crime involved a minor, may live within 1,000 feet of any “public school, private or parochial school, licensed day care center, other child care facility, public park, playground, recreation center, or public athletic field available for use by the general public,” according to section 211 of Tennessee’s legislation.

Beyond that 1,000 feet, there’s wiggle room.

An investigation of the registry shows that of the 50 elementary schools in Knox County, all but seven have at least one registered offender living within a mile of school property, and all 50 have offenders within three miles. Presumably, this means convicted sex offenders living in the same neighborhoods as young children.

Jennifer Mirtes, head of Inskip Park and Pool Neighborhood Watch in North Knoxville, says her group is aware of both the offender locator and the 17 offenders living within a mile of Inskip Elementary School. The Inskip Community Association includes a watchlist with its monthly newsletter.

Mirtes said that while the close proximity concerns her as a community member, she’s never seen any problems occur in the neighborhood.

“I’ve been out trick or treating with my kids when they were little and those people kept their lights off,” she says.

Mirtes and the mission of the Inskip neighborhood watch group stress simply keeping an eye on the neighborhood so “bad elements know this is not the place to do business.” In terms of sex offenders, Mirtes’ watchful eye has never observed anything but compliance.

Tony Boles, one of two security officers at Pond Gap School in South Knoxville, says the residency requirement is fair, but “it could definitely be pushed back a few hundred feet.”

When Pond Gap has issues with people being on school property who shouldn’t be there, it’s never a sex offender issue.

“They know the laws. They’re smart people,” he said.

“Not to say there aren’t any in the area; there are. But we’ve never had an issue.”

How many registered offenders live nearby your neighborhood school? This map can show you both a one and three mile radius of any elementary school in Knox County