In Florida there are two categories for people convicted of sex offenses, sex offenders and sexual predators. Sex offenders are the lesser of the two categories. Sexual predators must be guilty of one first degree felony sex crime, or two second degree felony sex crimes.
Although there are big differences, the public sees very little difference and the state treats each with equal harshness. They live and work among the rest of us. They have normal jobs, normal cars and normal homes, but they have a dark past that sets them apart.
There are more than 300 registered sex offenders and sexual predators living in Bay County. They have a criminal record that will probably follow them for the rest of their lives, but they could be the guy or girl next door, and the state wants to give you every opportunity to know if they are living next door.
When asked, "Why is it so important to make regular check-ups to sexual offenders?"
Neil Delmar, Sheriff's Deputy, said, "Well, as far as the offenders go, we think it's a service to the community."
Checking up on sex offenders may be a service, but checking up on predators is a law.
When a sexual predator or sex offender moves to a new town, they must register with the Sheriff's Office. They are fingerprinted, photographed and checked for valid identification cards. Their picture goes up on the FDLE Web site under the county where they reside. Then law enforcement makes regular check-ups.
For sex offenders, it's about every six months. For predators, it's every month. We went along with Bay County sheriff's deputies as they made some of those check-ups.
House number one:
"He's a sexual offender, been convicted in the state of Florida for lewd and lascivious act on a child under 16."
Delmar is making sure Russell Thompson's ID card matches the information on file at the Sheriff's Office. He also wants to verify his address. Delmar will have to return another time to reach Thompson, but Delmar is able to verify Thompson's address. Then it's on to house number 2.
"He's a sex offender, he's convicted for committing lewd and lascivious acts on a child 16 years of age, and we're gonna check to see if he's home and do a verification on him."
This man wasn't home either. Again, Delmar will have to return at a later date. It's a different story at house number 3. Steve Brady is home.
"He was convicted in the state of SC for lewd and lascivious acts on a child under 16."
Brady refused be audio recorded, but we see him hand Delmar his registration. Delmar verifies the address. Brady is in the clear, at least for another six months.
Some sexual offenders and predators may find it even harder to move to this area. Just this week Panama City commissioners voted for a new ban against offenders and predators living near places where children congregate.
The new law expands the current state boundary of 1,000 to 2,500 feet from schools, daycares or bus stops. That would virtually ban sex offenders and sexual predators from living in Panama City’s city limits.