Searching for sex offenders - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Searching for sex offenders

February 28, 2006

Albany-- Corona Bradley is a wife and mother of a teenaged son. Her family bought a house in southwest Albany four years ago. "I feel pretty comfortable here," Bradley said. She never felt unsafe, until now.

"This is scary when you have children," Bradley said when we showed her Georgia's on-line registry of sex offenders. What she saw shocked her. "There's one on my street three houses down from me," she said as she looked at page after page of registered sex offenders. From her front yard, she can see one sex offender's house. Another is just down the street. Several more live a few blocks away.

"People should look on this website, especially if they have young children or grandchildren coming into their home," she said. That's because you could have a sex offender living near you. They're in every part of Albany.

"It scares you to death because we don't want anything to happen to anybody," said Sheriff Jamil Saba. He worries about sex offenders so much because he has to keep up with them. "We just want to make sure they're doing what they're supposed to do." When offenders get out of jail or move into the county, they're supposed to go to the sheriff's office and register within ten days.

"They're supposed to come here and report where they're staying and also where they're going to work," Saba said. And if they move, it's up to them to let the Sheriff's office know. So, are they following the rules? We randomly chose five registered sex offenders in Dougherty County and set out to find out if they live where they say they do. We checked public records. We made phone calls. We asked neighbors. And we knocked on doors. When we asked one offender what she thought of being on the list for years, she said "Well, ain't nothing I can do about it."

Four of the five offenders we searched for checked out. We couldn't confirm the other. But we did find other problems. A sex offender is registered right across the street from Monroe High School and just down the block from Southside Middle School. Another lives in an apartment building down the street from Hilsman Park. Problem is, sex offenders aren't supposed to live that close to parks, schools, or other places where children gather.

Now, state lawmakers are considering a bill that would also make it illegal for offenders to work within a thousand feet of those areas, and it expands the definition of places where children gather to include bus stops. Sheriff Saba worries those restrictions could make it so hard for offenders to live and work legally in crowded metro Atlanta that they could head straight for south Georgia.

"It's probably going to push a lot of them out into smaller counties," he said. The punishment for violating the sex offender registry rules could also change from up to three years in prison to up to 30 years in prison. "It's just going to make some of them hide more," said Sgt. Donnie Goins, the Criminal Records Supervisor in charge of registering offenders. Some of them hide already.

"We have quite a few that we have to chase down all the time. They're constantly moving," Goins said.

Most sex offenders don't want to go back to jail and do follow the rules, but this registry can change daily, and it will never be completely accurate. "I would say it's probably 75% accurate," Goins said. It's now Lt. Rebecca Williamson's job to try to keep that percentage as high as possible.

"Checking up on them. Making sure the information that they gave to us is accurate," she said. Just this month, she became Dougherty County's first full-time sex offender investigator. She's already tracked down four offenders who missed their annual re-registration, and she's about to start going door to door the same way we did. "Part of my job will be to randomly verify the information we have on file which will mean going to the address that we have registered for them and check on them and make sure they live there."

That focus on sex offenders makes Corona Bradley feel a little better, but knowing what she knows now, she's making drastic changes. She planned to open a child care facility in her home. Now, she's looking for another location.

"Who would want their child to attend a day care where there are sex offenders living on that avenue?" Bradley said. She also says she won't leave her son home alone anymore. "Now that I know what's in my neighborhood, he will no longer be latchkey.

She'll be more cautious herself. And... to see who her neighbors are, she'll go on-line regularly searching for sex offenders.

According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Sex Offender Registry tonight, 185 sex offenders are registered in Dougherty County. Thirty of them are behind bars. One is missing. That leaves 154 living in our neighborhoods.

To find out who's living near you, just visit: http://services.georgia.gov/gbi/gbisor/disclaim.html

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