VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. – At any given moment, Volusia County is home to upwards of 1,000 registered sex offenders and 150 sexual predators. Some of them are branded with the offender/predator designation for life; some are on probation.
They are supposed to follow strict rules, but are they? Who knows if they’re not? And what happens if they don’t?
That’s why the “Career Criminal Unit” (CCU) exists at the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office.
All patrol deputies share the duty of checking on all offenders and predators all the time randomly, but the two detectives who comprise the CCU are checking on the checks, following up when an offender is not in compliance or a complaint comes in.
Detective Jerome Childers, one of the two CCU detectives, said the offenders and predators must be checked and followed up on.
“In our job, we do have a lot of multiple repeat offenders,” Childers said. “And those are just the offenses that we know about.”
Sexual predators are required to check in, in person, with the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office every three months. Sexual offenders are required to check in, in person, every six months. But anytime they make a change to their personal information — job, address, vehicles, phone number, internet identifiers (email addresses, social media profiles) — they must notify the sheriff’s office within 48 hours. If not, they are in violation.
Childers said the CCU arrested registered sex offender Bing Collins for not notifying the sheriff’s office he had taken a job as a roofer.
“It’s not because you’re working, it’s because you’re a sex offender and didn’t report your employment,” Childers told Collins during the arrest.
All offenders and predators agree to certain obligations as part of their convictions and sign off on definitions of terms, including internet identifiers.
“The internet identifier means any kind of screen name, any kind of social media application that they would use to contact anyone or have a chat, any kind of chat group,” Childers said. “Anything you disguise your name as a screen name.”
The CCU detectives scour social media to check on internet identifiers and ask offenders and predators if their identifiers have changed.
Childers said more and more sex convicts are sentenced to the sex offender/predator designation because of victims, often children, they’ve preyed upon online.
“We try to pull them up and find them on their internet identifier [on social media] and see what the deal is if they have it registered or not,” Childers said.
How often are the offenders and predators honest with the CCU detectives?
“I would say it’s a case-by-case basis but I’d say it’s about 50/50,” Childers said.
In August, the Career Criminal Unit, with help from U.S. Marshals, updated internet identifiers and other registration requirements 636 times and made 25 sex offender and predator arrests for not complying with the terms of a conviction.
“We can show hundreds of cases each year where they didn’t follow the rules,” Childers said. “So I think it’s important because if they’re not paying attention or not following the rules with certain things as reporting an internet identifier, you try to understand why. And that’s what we’re trying to prevent, God forbid something terrible happens because we didn’t have the information. So that’s why we’re out here doing these checks.”
Childers said one arrest was for a sex offender caught with child pornography. Another arrest was a registered sex offender who had disappeared in New York and was found in Volusia County.
“Yes there should be stiffer penalties but, next to that, this is the only other thing we have,” Childers said. “To go out there and make sure ‘hey you got off once and you’re out, we’re going to make sure you’re doing the right thing or we won’t hesitate to put you back.’”
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