NOTE: This story follows an NBC 5 Investigates/Telemundo Investiga report on sex offenders living at motels. Click here for more on the investigation.
Remember that a sex offender’s residency at a motel or inn is completely legal, and there is no obligation on the part of any establishment to research the background of a guest, or alert other guests to someone’s criminal history. There is also no specific obligation of any police agency, in the states we checked, to give notice directly to hotel or motel guests, about a sex offender who has reported his or her residence there.
So the best way – and likely the only way – for a family to try to take steps to make sure they do not check in to a motel room next to a sex offender is to get the address for the motel, and then cross-check the readily available sex-offender databases for that address. But even that will not work one hundred percent of the time:
Every state maintains its own registry of sex offenders, which is supposed to be updated every time an offender changes his or her home or work address. Most state registries allow you to search by address. But not all work that way. That includes – in the Midwestern states we researched – Minnesota. For the most part, Minnesota does not map offenders by exact addresses, but only by the overall block where they report their residence.
For our story, NBC5 Investigates looked at all motels and hotels listed, in a ten-state area, on two websites: TripAdvisor.com and HotelGuides.com. We cross-referenced the addresses of any motel or hotel listed there, with the geographical-search feature for that state’s sex offender registry.
In order for NBC5 to list a motel or hotel as “tourist-friendly,” it had to full both of the following conditions: 1) be listed and reviewed on TripAdvisor, and 2) have its own website, with a tool where anyone could make an online reservation.
We tracked offenders in other motels (that didn’t have a website and/or weren’t reviewed on TripAdvisor), but did not count them in our number of motels where tourists and families were likely to stay.
You can do the same, for any area where you are planning to travel: NBC5 Investigates has compiled a fifty-state/four territory guide on how to do an address search on each sex offender registry website.
Also, the United States Department of Justice maintains the National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW), which allows you to search for specific addresses for most states, but not some (for example, Illinois and Tennessee – which is why we have provided separate links in our own guide). To search by location, press the small “search by location” link on the right side of the page.
NSOPW also has a searchable app, which you can download through the Apple App Store or Google Play. Again, it allows you to search by address in some states, but not all.
A private company called “Family Watchdog” also provides “a free service to help locate registered sex offenders in your area,” at this link. Family Watchdog claims its information is 97.5% accurate, and adds: “Not all addresses are in this data. There are many factors beyond our control surrounding address information. One of our primary goals is to upgrade our address service data in the near future.” NBC5 cannot endorse or guarantee the accuracy of Family Watchdog’s information.