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Sheriff seeks tighter rein on homeless sex offenders

BROOKSVILLE — Only a month after being released from prison, convicted sexual predator John Scoggins was told to come to the Hernando County Sheriff's Office to provide an update on his living arrangements.

"I am still transient, have no permanent address," Scoggins wrote on a sworn statement dated Aug. 12.

That was a lie, according to the Sheriff's Office. Scoggins was actually staying with an ex-girlfriend at her home south of Brooksville and near the Hernando County Airport, deputies said.

But the case highlighted the problems local law enforcement agencies have keeping track of homeless convicted sex offenders and predators.

Sheriff Richard Nugent and his staff have responded with a proposal that would require convicted sex offenders without a specific address to report monthly to the Sheriff's Office. They made their pitch Wednesday at a meeting of the Florida Sheriff's Association legislative committee in Orlando.

"This is a huge loophole ... some folks are figuring out how to run under the radar," Nugent said. "We want to tie it up and make (the law) a little tighter."

Under current state law, convicted sex offenders must report to the Sheriff's Office in their respective counties twice a year and sexual predators are required to check in four times a year. If they are homeless or without a specific address, offenders and predators are allowed to provide general locations — such as an intersection of two streets.

Hernando's plan was modeled after a similar law in Washington state, which orders offenders to report weekly to their county Sheriff's Office. Nugent suggested monthly reports for Florida, allowing for the budget constraints of smaller departments.

"It may be a burden," Nugent said. "But it's not a burden that we should shirk."

Nugent said the proposal would go to the full Sheriff's Association, which would then consider the plan and potentially submit it during the state's legislative session next year.

According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Hernando has about 275 registered sex offenders and predators. Of those found on the database, only Scoggins listed himself as "transient."

Detective Tommy Breedlove, who started researching the proposal about a year ago, said it's unclear what the scope of the problem is in Hernando but that Scoggins' case heightened their concerns about the issue.

"It raised a lot of red flags for us," Breedlove said. "If we're supposed to know where people live and they provide us with false information, it doesn't make our jobs any easier and it doesn't make our communities any safer."

Some agencies across the country have created special units and come up with specific policies to register homeless sex offenders, including the police departments in Seattle, Dallas and Palm Bay. But in Georgia, for instance, sex offenders can be arrested for being homeless.

"Homeless sex offenders are a challenge to local law enforcement," said Alissa Huntoon, a project manager for the International Association of Chiefs of Police, based in Alexandria, Va. "It's difficult to monitor somebody if they're homeless."

Meanwhile, Scoggins has been behind bars in the Hernando County Jail since Aug. 14. He faces charges of failure to register as a sexual predator and possession of amphetamine, methamphetamine and paraphernalia.

Scoggins, 51, has pleaded not guilty on all charges.

Joel Anderson can be reached at joelanderson@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6120.

Sheriff seeks tighter rein on homeless sex offenders 09/24/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 30, 2008 3:53pm]
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