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Program to keep a closer watch on sex offenders

Officials plan to do more knocking on doors, particularly for those who are no longer on probation.

By JAMIE MALERNEE

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 26, 2000


For the past four years, residents who wanted the assurance of knowing where sexual predators were living in their community had to depend on a line of defense that had some holes in it.

But now local law enforcement officers are getting into the process, hoping to patch those holes.

Officials with the Hernando County Sheriff's Office announced Wednesday that they, along with local prosecutors and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, are beefing up their watch on men and women who have been convicted of rape and other sex crimes. Particular emphasis is on offenders who no longer are on probation.

Where in the past officials kept tabs on non-supervised offenders mainly by annual mailings, which checked to see that offenders lived where they said they lived, officers now will be knocking on their doors at least four times a year and as often as every month.

"This is something we feel very strongly about," Sheriff Tom Mylander said Wednesday. "A lot of the victims of these offenders and predators are children, and we take that very seriously. We're all working together to keep tabs on these individuals."

There are four sexual predators and 137 offenders living in the county. Forty-three of those offenders are non-supervised.

In 1996, the Legislature first passed laws requiring certain offenders to register their residences and alert police when they moved. Authorities, in turn, can post this information on bulletin boards, fliers and the Internet. In the most serious cases, officials are required to notify neighbors, schools and day care centers about a predators' presence. But this is not required when defendants are convicted of lesser sex offenses, such as molesting, but not raping, a child.

Many predators and offenders are closely monitored as part of their probation. But until now, the increasing number of offenders in Hernando who had completed their probation were subject to much less stringent observation. For example, four FDLE agents were responsible to monitor the movements of 500 sexual predators and offenders in a four-county area, including Hernando, in addition to their other daily duties.

The result was not always ideal, officials said.

"They'd send a letter to the house, and if (the offender's) mom or dad were there, they'd just say, "Yeah, sure, he's here,' " sheriff's Maj. Richard Nugent said.

Now, members of the Sheriff's Office's community policing program will be doing the checks themselves, meeting with the offender or predator in person. The program, called SPOT or Sexual Predator/Offender Tracking, will cost no extra money and is modeled after a similar Tampa program, Mylander said.

Local officials decided to create the program in Hernando after the Legislature changed statute language that said it was both the responsibility of state and local law enforcement agencies to track those convicted of sex crimes.

If an offender moves without notifying anyone, he or she will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, said Assistant State Attorney Bill Catto, who added that failing to register or notify officials of a change of address is a third-degree felony.

"There is a hammer behind (these laws)," Catto said at a news conference. "When an individual violates these particular portions of the law . . . we then are able to take the individual into the court system and hopefully complete successful prosecution."

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