Unless an investigation of a sexual attack or murder led them to a sexual offender, law enforcement also had no reliable way to track offenders.
That changed in 1997 with passage of the law establishing Arkansas' Sex Offender Registry.
They are also assessed by the Arkansas Department of Corrections and given a community notification level rating. A Level 1 is considered a low risk to reoffend. A Level 2 offender is a moderate risk. A Level 3 ranking indicates a high risk to the community and a Level 4 offender is considered a sexually violent predator worthy of special concern.
Level 3s and 4s must confirm their current address every three months and photographs and criminal history information are posted on the Sexual Offender Registry which is available to all online at www.acic.org. That is the Web Site for the Arkansas Crime Information Center.
Level 1 and 2 offenders must verify their addresses every six months.
Thanks to the registry, residents of our area can easily learn that Sharp County currently has 63 registered sex offenders. Fourteen are Level 3 offenders, considered a high risk to reoffend. One is a Level 4, a convicted criminal with a record of sexually violent behavior.
In Fulton County, the state registry shows 54 registered sex offenders. One is a Level 4 while 13 others are a Level 3 threat.
Izard County has 43 registered sex offenders. Twelve are judged Level 3s.
In nearby Oregon County Missouri, there are 28 registered sex offenders. The law is different in Missouri and all offenders are posted online. That state does not evaluate offenders and rate them on their threat to reoffend.
This is the third time in recent years The News, Villager Journal, and The South Missourian News have taken an indepth look at area sexual offenders.
Over the years, the number of registered offenders has remained fairly stable.
Most law enforcement agencies say, each year, a few sexual offenders move out of the area, are jailed, or die and, each year, a few new offenders move in to take their place.
The most common offense sexual offenders commit is failure to verify their address every three or six months as required by law. Some become absconders by taking off and failing to register in new jurisdictions where they land. They are considered criminals on the loose.
Whether it's their presence on the state registry or monitoring by law enforcement and the public, the rate of convicted sex offenders who are charged with new sexual offenses is described as relatively low.
That is a trend police agencies and those connected with the state registry certainly want to see continue.
In May, the Arkansas Sex Offender Registry hit a bittersweet milestone.
It signed up it's 10,000th offender in the ongoing effort to monitor sexual predators and prevent attacks on innocent people, especially children.
But Paula Stitz, who manages the online registry, admits the law was not popular with law enforcement when it took effect in August of 1997.
"It began as an unfunded mandate and many law enforcement agencies were not happy to take on a big, new responsibility with no additional funding to help pay the costs," says Stitz.
But she is quick to add, "Over the years, I think most departments have come to see the benefits of the law."
According to Stitz, the system of registering convicted sex offenders upon release and monitoring them has improved since the early days of the law.
"There is better communication between local, state, and federal agencies. We now know where most sex offenders live and we work together to try to make sure they do not victimize anyone else."
"They don't like it." That is how Judy Qualls describes the reaction of Sharp County offenders as they make regular visits to her office to confirm their address and have their photo updated.
"They especially don't like to have photos taken. Sexual offenders like to keep a low profile. Many change their appearance after coming in: cut their hair, shave beards, things like that to look different from their online photos," Qualls explains.
Paula Stitz backs up Qualls. "Monitoring sex offenders is like trying to herd a bunch of cats. They move around a lot, change their appearance, and try to find ways to make enforcement more difficult."
Besides registering sex offenders, many law enforcement agencies, like the Fulton County Sheriff's Department, try to make regular home visits.
Deputy Lance Gray wants to make sure offenders live where they say they do and that they are not involved in activity that could lead them to reoffend.
"During home visits, I try to find out who their friends are, where they hang out," Gray says. "If they allow me inside to look around, I always try to get permission to check their computer history and e-mails."
The problem for many smaller police departments is finding the time to make regular home visits and update information in the registry.
Gray points out managing the local sex offender registry is just part of his job. Gray still responds to citizen calls and performs the other duties Deputies are known for.
While the state registry shows seven Level 3 and Level 4 offenders in Fulton County, the Sheriff's Department found, in a closer check of it's records that there are seven level three offenders who do not appear on the state website.
The News is publishing the up dated information.
Gray intends to make sure the state's records are updated as well so that people who use the registry get the latest information as to where sexual offenders live.
Deputy Darren Sorrell, who manages the Oregon County Missouri registry, says the public needs to realize law enforcement can't do it alone.
The Sex Offender Register is available online 24 hours a day and he wishes more people would occasionally look at it to know where offenders live in their area.
"People I know who use it want to keep informed on whether there are sex offenders living near them. It's a way of keeping an eye out to protect their kids."
Fulton County is among city and county governments who would like to see sex offenders help pay for the cost of monitoring them.
An administrative fee each time offenders register, move, or reconfirm their addresses would create a pool of money to hire additional help to run the program properly.
In Little Rock, Registry manager Stitz says there has been a lot of talk about fees for sex offenders. But it is still not clear whether government agencies have the right to impose fees without the legislature's approval.
After nearly 13 years, there is also discussion as to whether the current Sex Offender Registry law needs to be "tweaked".
A growing number of critics say it is unfair to require a sex offender who has just one conviction and does not reoffend to have to register year after year.
Currently, in Arkansas, even a one time offender has to be registered a minimum of 15 years before petitioning the court to be released.
Izard County Sheriff Tate Lawrence skoffs at the idea of weakening current registry requirements.
"Those in the registry offended, did it by choice, and were convicted," says Lawrence. "They should always be required to register their address. It is a matter of public safety."
Lawrence adds his belief the current system is working well.
His proof? He can't remember the last time a registered sex offender was arrested for a new sexual offense in Izard County.
(Editors Note: Under Arkansas law, information obtained from the Sex Offender Registry cannot be used to threaten, intimidate, or harass registered sex offenders. Use of registry information to commit a crime against another person is subject to criminal prosecution. Misuse of the registry could threaten law enforcement's ability to continue sex offender community notification.)