By Lauren Trager
LITTLE ROCK - A new law in Arkansas that targets sex offenders prohibits them from being too closed to kids at swimming areas and playgrounds in public parks.
This was one of the very first laws to pass this legislative session. The governor signed it into law just last week. While most people agree it's got great intentions, others say it may not be very effective.
"Bo and I just like to come out here and walk the trails," said Ted Callaway.
Callaway and his dog Bo head out to Pinnacle Mountain State Park almost every week, but on this cold Wednesday, they're one of the only ones.
During the summer or the weekend, the park would be packed with kids on the playground. Protecting them is the intent of Act 39 (PDF). It restricts level three and four sex offenders from entering a swimming area or playground at any state park in Arkansas.
The reason: leaders say those areas are where children are least likely to be supervised. Callaway says it seems good to him.
- So why are parents taking their kids to a state park and leaving them in swimming pools or playgrounds alone? That is not being a parent, and we need to stop passing insane laws to do what parents should be doing.
"I would feel better not having sex offenders near the playground or the swimming pool, I think it's a good law," he said.
But others say the law didn't go far enough.
"I think they shouldn't be let in the park completely," said another parkgoer, Justin Baldwin.
- So I guess you are okay with everyone who wants to enter a park, having to stop at the gate and have a background check run on them first?
Under the law, a sex offender can still be inside the park. They can hike, they can even hang out near the playground, it's once they take that one step into the swimming area or playground, they could suddenly get arrested.
"It's ridiculous," said Baldwin. "There's no reason for them out here."
- They have just as much right as you do to be out there.
Law enforcement officers, too, worry a bit over the wording of the law and how they'd enforce it.
"Just to come up to a person at a picnic table and demand their ID, that's not something we can do," said Lt. Carl Minden with the Pulaski County Sheriff's Office
Lt. Minden says they're already too strapped for resources to be tracking down sex offenders in state parks.
"You can't keep constant tabs on somebody. In Pulaski County alone, there's literally thousands between the jurisdictions," said Lt. Minden.
He says they'll need to rely on people like Callaway and Bo to help police the park of people they think are suspicious.
The sheriff's office has jurisdiction in state parks, but there are also park police patrolling the areas.
The Department of Parks and Tourism is behind the bill. It wants this to be more of deterrent than anything else or an added charge if police notice sex offenders do other illegal activity.
If a sex offender if found inside a swimming pool or playground area, they could go to prison for up to six years.