BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County Sheriff's Office on Wednesday announced the results of an ongoing operation to identify and arrest wanted people — especially those with a history of child abuse and sex-related offenses.
The effort is called "Operation Safe Children."
Since its inception in January, the operation has netted 71 people on charges ranging from violation of probation to child abuse, sexual battery and lewd and lascivious molestation. The arrests include 30 sex offenders and predators.
Several law enforcement agencies have participated in the effort.
"These people who have committed these crimes . . . we're going to find them and we're going to bring them to justice and put them in jail," said Hernando sheriff's Capt. J.R. Hutchinson, who has led the operation.
One such target was Billie Earl Futrell, a sexual predator wanted on a violation of probation. He was found and arrested, and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
The idea for the operation began in September, when Hutchinson, who works with the Sheriff's Office's judicial services division, noticed that a sex offender with a warrant out for his arrest was out to sea as a merchant marine. That didn't sit well with Hutchinson. The Sheriff's Office worked to make sure his name was on a watch list, and he was picked up when he arrived in port.
From there, Hutchinson asked the warrants unit to research additional sex offender absconders and others with warrants so they could be targeted and would not be free to victimize other children.
In particular, the Sheriff's Office has been looking for people with active warrants or probable cause involving sexual battery, child abuse/neglect, lewd and lascivious behavior, exposure of sexual organs and sexual offenders with any type of warrant.
The goal is pretty straightforward: identify, locate and arrest wanted people in order to reduce or eliminate crimes committed by people who are trying to avoid arrest.
To find these people, the Sheriff's Office asked its information technology department to develop a way to pull specific crimes from the office's database. It then asked a deputy to search old warrants for people meeting the criteria.
The operation will run for a year.
The Sheriff's Office has roughly 2,000 outstanding warrants, which it contends is in line with what is seen at other law enforcement agencies. Since 2010, Sheriff Al Nienhuis said, the Sheriff's Office has reduced the number of warrants by about 1,000.
Contact Danny Valentine at email@example.com or (352) 848-1432. Follow @HernandoTimes.