Originally created 06/05/06

Officers ready to enforce sex law



Starting this week, sheriff's deputies on the Georgia side of the Augusta area are putting hundreds of sex offenders on notice:

You have until July 1 to get away from minors and children.

That's when House Bill 1059, signed by Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue to toughen up sex offender regulations, takes effect. The law mandates that sex offenders will not be allowed to live, loiter or work within 1,000 feet of a child care facility, school, church or any area where minors congregate, including school bus stops and public swimming pools.

The Columbia County Sheriff's Office will mail out notices to its sex offenders this week, and Richmond County Sheriff's deputies will probably warn them in person, officials said.

"We're basically telling them that if they are in violation, they have until June 30 or charges will be filed," said Capt. Steve Morris, a spokesman for the Columbia County department.

Law enforcement officers from east central Georgia met in Columbia County last week for a powwow to formulate their game plan.

"We were trying to get a better understanding of how it will impact each county and try to assure that we're all singing from the same sheet of music," Capt. Morris said.

For counties like Columbia, it's not going to be a big tax on manpower to ensure the new, more stringent rules are followed, Capt. Morris said. The county has only 64 offenders in the state registry, according to Georgia Bureau of Investigation data.

The difficulty might come with larger counties such as Richmond.

"It's going to be tougher, because we have more things we have to check against for each offender," said Investigator Ronald Sylvester, the only investigator keeping track of Richmond County's sex offenders.

In Richmond County, there are at least 200 offenders to a single policeman, according to the GBI data. Compounding the problem is that there aren't many places outside of newly forbidden zones for sex offenders to legally reside in urban and suburban areas.

For example, many of the lower-cost Gordon Highway motels, where clusters of sex offenders live, are now off-limits because the Richmond County school system has bus stops close by, Investigator Sylvester said.

In the end, he said, some offenders might be more difficult to pin down.

"You're going to have the ones who are continuously moving, and us following every house they go to, because they'll be moving to try to keep themselves out of jail," Investigator Sylvester said.

Reach Jeremy Craig at (706) 823-3409 or jeremy.craig@augustachronicle.com.

TOUGHER RESTRICTIONS

House Bill 1059, a sweeping law that toughens Georgia's laws against sex offenders, goes into effect July 1. Here are some of the new restrictions and rules:

- Sex offenders cannot loiter within 1,000 feet of a child care facility, school, church or any other area where minors congregate, including school bus stops.

- Sex offenders cannot work within 1,000 feet of a day care, school, or church; those defined as sex predators cannot work in areas where minors congregate.

- Sexual predators must be monitored by GPS satellites for their entire lives.

- Registration for life is required for all convicted sex offenders unless they were adjudicated in juvenile court or convicted of a misdemeanor.

- The time by which offenders must register with local sheriff's offices if they move is reduced from 10 days to 72 hours.

Sources: Georgia governor's office; HB 1059