NEW PORT RICHEY — Open the Sheriff's Office's new mobile phone application. Click on the map. Look at the dots — hundreds of them — covering the county like chicken pox on a kindergartener.
Click on each dot, and you'll see the face of a convicted sex offender who could be steps away in any given neighborhood.
Tuesday's release of the app was optimal, the Sheriff's Office says, just before a holiday that can bring trouble to the people behind the dots.
"With Halloween," said Sheriff Chris Nocco, "parents ... can literally walk down the street and be able to click on their location, and as they're walking, they'll be able to know which house has a sex predator or a sex offender living there. And depending on their sentence, they may still be able to hand out candy.
"Parents ... can say, 'Hey kids, you're not going to that house.' "
Bill Todd, of Fast Forward Marketing, the app's designer, said it's the only one like it in the country.
"No other law enforcement agency has a sexual offender mapping ... on an app, in your hand," he said.
The free app is 2 1/2 months in the making. It cost about $14,000 out of crime prevention funds, which are separate from tax dollars, Nocco said. Aside from the map, the app, "PascoSO," has several other features.
First, it offers two-way tips. If a scam or burglary ring starts up in the county, the Sheriff's Office can let app users know, via push notifications, what to look out for.
Citizens can tip the Sheriff's Office, too, by sending a photo or other information about a crime anonymously through the app.
Nocco noticed that an item on the Sheriff's Office's Facebook page, "Fugitive of the Day" with a photo of the suspect and description of the charges, had gained popularity and in some cases helped catch the suspects. Now, an icon in the app displays the names and mugshots of the county's most wanted.
Another icon puts parents in touch with resource officers at their children's schools.
In the future, Nocco said, the Sheriff's Office is looking to add a "Who's in Jail" feature, which is already popular on the website, and shows all of the latest mugshots.
The app is planned to have live notifications during natural disasters or major car crashes to show roads closed or where to find sand bags.
"It's just another tool," Nocco said. "We hope everyone downloads this because it's going to make us safer as a community. It's definitely setting us apart because we are on the cutting edge."
The app was released for iPhones on Tuesday and will be working on Android phones today.
Contact Alex Orlando at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.