Part IV: ‘Peace of mind’ for sex predators

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Aug 13, 2021
Key Points
  • 600 sex predators off ankle monitors across Georgia by year’s end.
  • No legal fix from state lawmakers nearly two years later.
  • Police rely on registrations and house checks for predators.

Many sheriffs and district attorneys in Georgia say they’ve come to grips with the ankle monitors’ loss, noting the need to balance privacy rights with public safety. Some, like Chatham County Sheriff John Wilcher, see little cause to argue with court judgments.

“If it’s court ordered and I take it off, I don’t question none of it,” said Wilcher, whose area has 54 predators on the state registry. “We monitor them as best we can, five days a week. It’s just an ongoing thing about it.”

State law charges sheriff’s offices with keeping tabs on sex offenders off probation, totaling hundreds or thousands of people in some areas, including higher-risk predators. Despite the legal mandate, sheriffs say they do not receive state funding to monitor predators.

Most sheriff’s offices in Georgia have funding for just a handful of deputies to make house calls on hundreds of sex offenders to determine they haven’t moved without notifying authorities. Predators also must register twice a year under Georgia law.

Wilcher has five officers in Savannah who visit houses five days a week, while other counties like Richmond, Bibb, Floyd, Barrow have one or two officers each. The Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office boosted its patrol staff from one officer to five earlier this year, said spokesman John Wade. Gwinnett County, with roughly 570 registered sex offenders out of prison, including 21 predators, has four full-time deputies and one part-time, according to a spokesman.

That staffing is enough to check on every sex offender under their watch at least once a year, often more than that, assured several sheriffs and investigators. But not having ankle monitors gives some sheriffs cause for concern regarding predators.

“Taking that ability away from us, I’ll be honest with you, it makes the public a little less safe and those they pray on,” said Barrow County Sheriff Jud Smith, whose area has four predators on the registry. “The predators are a higher level of what we want to watch.”

There’s no guarantee that ankle monitors can ever stop a predator from committing a sex crime, authorities and advocates say. Local sheriffs have viewed ankle monitors less as a crime-tracking tool than as a physical reminder for sex predators to think twice before going near a school or playground. But they have helped investigators make arrests in a few recent close-call cases, such as the capture of a Dalton man accused of stalking a high schooler in 2019. Police placed him at the scene of the alleged stalking since, as a registered predator, he was wearing an ankle monitor.

More often, the sheer presence of an ankle monitor creates less “freedom in their mind” for predators since they know police can easily spot where they’ve been, said Lt. Mike Kenirey with the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office.

“(Removing ankle monitors) allows the predator a bit more peace of mind, so to speak,” he said. “So that they could go to an area that they normally wouldn’t go to knowing that they’re being kept track of digitally.”

What else would you like to know about sex-related crimes and the judicial system in Georgia? Share your thoughts/tips by emailing [email protected].


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