9 Investigates: Marion County' Sheriff's Department gets tough on sexual predators



MARION COUNTY, Fla. - 9 Investigates efforts being made by Marion County Sheriff Chris Blair to get tough on child predators.

Channel 9 has reported on dramatic increases in the number of registered sex offenders across central Florida.

At Ocala's Tuscawilla playground, Stephanie Durbin keeps her young daughter close.

"You can't trust your kids to go outside by themselves anymore," she said.

The Marion County Sheriff's Office aims to change that. 

Sgt. Keith Miller leads the sheriffs Sexual Offender and Predator Unit.  State law requires the county sheriffs to check on registered sex offenders once a year and registered predators every 90 days, but the Marion Sheriff's Office conducts cold calls on offenders every 90 days and predators once a month. 

"I think it's a big expense on the taxpayer to be truthful with you," said registered sexual predator Thomas Brown.

Brown runs a group home that helps coordinate treatment.  He tolerates the constant visits because he has to but some refuse, and they've left Marion County to get away from it.

"You still have the annoyance of the knock on the door," said Brown.

Sheriff's officials said that may be why they see a new trend with fewer offenders and predators moving to the county.

Over the last four years, the numbers have flattened out.  Of the 700 or so offenders and predators living in Marion County, 47 are in the county jail, most trying to duck the registration laws, according to Channel 9's Berndt Petersen.

"The rules are set in stone, and they have to abide by those rules," said Blair.

Blair said the constant visits are only the beginning.  The hunt for accused sex criminals is on the sheriffs website and Facebook page, and soon registered offenders will be on new kiosks in the local malls. Blair said there are email alerts and their efforts will soon hit Twitter.

Some told Channel 9 they believe its chasing the offenders and predators out of the county.

"I'd be totally fine with that," said Blair.

Durbin feels the same way.

"Of course.  Nobody wants to know that there's a sexual predator living around their children," she said.

Dozens of video kiosks will soon be placed in malls and supermarkets across Marion, and Blair said any registered offenders and predators moving into the county will be featured.