Officials: Marion Co. sex crimes up 45 percent

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MARION COUNTY, Fla. - Officials said sex crimes in Marion County are up 45 percent compared to the same time last year.

They said investigators are on track for 200 more cases.

The reason is because of a big uptick in Internet and online predators who find their victims from their computers.

Officials said more parents are complaining and reporting, so the number of arrests is up as well.

Marion County officials said they're beefing up their sex crimes and cybercrimes units.

Diane Mackaben said when her two young sons get a little older, they'll live by the same rules their big sister does: No Internet without mom's permission.

"She is not allowed to give out her name, her address, her phone number, her age, because those are the things they want," Mackaben said.

"They" are sex predators, which is why the Marion County Sheriff's Office is now monitoring social media.

"One of the changes we have right now is the Internet is playing a greater role in these predators and how they pursue the victims," said Judge Cochran with the Marion County Sheriff's Office.

The number of sex crimes this year is on pace for an all-time record in Marion County.

"And these are serious crimes. Homicides, sex assaults on children, Internet crimes are going through the roof. These things that happen, we've got to stay on top of," said Marion County Sheriff Chris Blair.

The Sheriff's Office already closely watches the whereabouts of every registered offender and predator living in the county, but Blair said the spike in sex crimes justifies his need for more deputies.

He wants at least 20, which could require a tax hike to fund.

Mackaben supports it -- she wants the sheriff to turn up the heat on sexual predators.

In the meantime, she said she'll remain strict at home when her teen-aged daughter surfs the web.

"She's on there, and she's laughing. Something comes up and I don't know what it is. 'No, that's not good. Turn it off,'" Mackaben said.

Blair will appear before the Marion County Commission next Tuesday, his third visit in a month, to make the case to hire more deputies.