DES MOINES — The state Department of Public Safety has a new online feature allowing people to sign up for real-time notifications of location changes for registered sex offenders.

The new option, called “Offender Watch,” enables crime victims and others to receive a confidential automatic notification via phone or text message of a registered sex offender’s change in residence when the offender notifies the state of the change, officials said Thursday.

An email notification system has been available for several years. Last fiscal year, the sex offender website sent more than 280,000 email notifications to users on the movements and changes in relevant information made by offenders.

However, the addition of the mobile notifications gives users the ability to stay with information as they move, according to public safety officials.

“As technology changes, we strive to change with it,” Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Terry Cowman said.

“We think Offender Watch is a valuable addition to the sex offender registry and the registry’s website,” Cowman added. “But people shouldn’t rely on Offender Watch alone. Occasionally, some offenders don’t update their location as law requires, and occasionally they don’t tell us the truth about where they really live.”

Offender Watch notifies users when a convicted sex offender moves in or out of an area defined by the user.

Registered users can set up a “watch” using an address and a specified distance around that address. Users will receive text, voice or email notices each time a registered sex offender moves into or out of that area or moves to a new location within that area. Users also may create watches based on a city, county, ZIP code or a specific registrant or group of registrants.

Currently, more than 5,700 convicted sex offenders are registered on the Iowa Sex Offender Registry. In fiscal year 2012, offenders registered more than 3,400 address changes.

To sign up for Offender Watch or learn more about the Iowa Sex Offender registry, go to www.IowaSexOffender.com.

“Offender Watch provides real-time information anonymously to crime victims, and to others, who want to know the minute a convicted sex offender notifies the state that he or she has moved to another address,” Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said. “It also enables anyone to set up their own ‘watch’ area around any address, and they’ll get notified anytime a registered sex offender moves into or out of that user-defined area.”

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