CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The W.Va. State Police has been cataloguing sex offenders since 1993, but it's possible the number of registered offenders does not match the actual number of criminals in the state, according to officials.
The sex offender registry, which is staffed by a team of nine full-time professionals, has an active list of 3,312 registered sex offenders. However, the real number is closer to 4,000.
There are about 700 registered sex offenders who are incarcerated across the state.
While incarcerated, an offender's name is taken off the list because he is "not a threat to the public," said Terri Swecker, coordinator for the sex offender and child abuse registry. Once he is released, however, his name is added back to the searchable database.
All offenses committed after the database was started are entered into the registry. However, every offender who committed an act before 1993 has to be found and retroactively added.
Swecker, who has 27 years of civilian work with the State Police, said although they are entering almost 400 new offenders into the database each year, it's impossible to think every sex offender in the state is accounted for.
"We're always finding new people," she said.
In addition to a number of people who are not yet listed on the registry because of the date of their crime, and offenders in the jail system, Swecker and Sgt. S.M. Pettry, deputy director of criminal records, said the number of offenders actually tops 4,000.
Of that total, there are approximately 400 registered sex offenders in Kanawha County alone, the most in the state.
And yet that number can fluctuate.
Offenders are required to register not only the county they live in, but if they own property or are employed in a different county.
"About 400 live in Kanawha County, but there can be an influx of offenders who work here during the day," Pettry said. "There are a lot of people to keep track of."
Although sex offenders are required to notify the State Police of their employment, they are not required by law to tell an employer they are a registered sex offender.
While many places, including schools and little leagues that hire people to work closely with children, do verify and run background checks on potential employees, many companies do not.
Swecker said if companies did more background checks, they would be surprised what they find.
"If they did, I am sure a lot of people would [lose their jobs]," she said.