TROY, Mo. – It is the number one case for detectives at the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department: sex crimes – especially those involving children.
Investigators say it’s a growing problem in Lincoln County and they’re concerned that the problem could get worse.
Captain Mike Merkel, Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department, says 70 to 75 percent of the department’s criminal investigations are sex crimes. And in 90 percent of those cases, Merkel says the victims are children.
“The majority of our kids that are victimized are victimized by a close family friend or a family member,” he said.
“I think this is a black eye in the dark underbelly of society that nobody wants to talk about, nobody wants to address. If you turn your head, it’s not there but it’s there. It’s absolutely there. It’s present in our community; it’s present in every community across the United States.”
Merkel says there are several reasons for the amount of child sex crime cases in Lincoln County: more reporting of suspected cases, more aggressive investigations, and access to technology for predators.
But there is another issue – the number of sex offenders living in Lincoln County.
Authorities say there are 180 registered sex offenders who call Lincoln County home. That’s one offender per 312 residents.
In fact, we’re told Lincoln County has more sex offenders per capita than at least six other counties in our area.
“It worries me professionally,” said Detective Sean Flynn, who helps to track the sex offenders in Lincoln County.
Flynn says more offenders are coming to the county because of restrictions on how close they can live to things like schools and daycares.
“It’s harder and harder for them because of what the laws are to find places to live in the more densely populated areas like St. Charles County and St. Louis County, so it’s pushing them out farther to more rural areas,” he said.
Flynn and Merkel say that increase could contribute to the sex crime case numbers.
“There is a percentage of them who have re-offended,” Flynn said. “There are some that are currently under investigation.”
“If you put registered sex offenders in an area and there’s already non-registered sex offenders there, well then they can work together and figure out how to victimize more children.”
And here is the troubling bottom line.
“As time goes on, there are more people being convicted of sex offenses, so we’re going to see an increase in the number of sex offenders every year,” Flynn said. “The number is not going to decrease.”
'Know who your kids are hanging out with, know where your kids are going, know the offenders that reside in your area.'
Flynn says investigators conduct surprise checks on Lincoln County sex offenders to make sure they are complying with the law. He and Merkel say sheriff's department detectives are doing all they can to keep residents safe.