Sexual Predators To Have Signs in Yards?
Brian Speer of Florida is a sexual predator. He was convicted and served an 8 year prison sentence for that charge and when he was released he followed all the rules and he thought he had completed all of his obligations when he registered in Bradford County as a convicted sex predator.
But now, in addition to submitting to a public registry for sex offenders, he has a permanent reminder of his crime posted right in his front yard: a bright red sign reading, "Brian Speer is a convicted Sexual Predator and lives at this location."
The sign is one of 18 the Bradford County Sheriff's Office erected in mid-April outside the homes of convicted sex predators.
The signs have been praised by many residents in the small rural county southwest of Jacksonville, but some question whether the new measure reaches too far and could be harassment against people who have served jail terms and already submit to the public registry. Neighboring Baker County started a similar program six years ago.
"I think it's a lot of bull," said Speer, who was convicted of lewd or lascivious molestation in 2004. "I believe that anybody that has any criminal background should have a sign in front of their house if we have one in front of ours." He makes a good case right there.
Bradford officials say they are working within the discretion afforded by state statutes, which mandate that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement use the Internet to notify the public of all sexual predators and requires that a sheriff or police chief conduct community notification of a sexual predator's presence.
It does not specify how that community notification must take place. It traditionally has been done through fliers, print and television media, and websites, but Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith thought his office could do more. So the signs are going up.
Is it fair? Is that was all this is coming to? Do we want that?
The federal Sex Offender and Registration Act, passed in 2006, sets minimum standards for sex offender notification across the country. There is no central database to track how agencies notify residents, but counties and towns in other states have tried sign programs with mixed success. Judges have ordered signs to be posted outside the homes of specific sex offenders in cases in Texas, Louisiana and Oregon.
Sign placement also has been shot down. In 2009, a Kansas appeals court overturned a judge's order requiring a sex offender to post signs on both his home and vehicle.
The signs cost $10 each, and inmate labor is used to erect them.
"I felt embarrassed for him," Rashanda Green who has 3 children in that neighborhood. "It seems like it's a little too much. Kids living in the neighborhood read (the sign) and are asking questions like 'What is a sex predator?' I think he should be able to live in peace at least. It's a little over the top for me."
For now, though, the signs aren't going anywhere.
"If they're a sexual predator, we're not going to sugarcoat it or give anybody any preferential treatment," Brad Smith said. "We're going to put the sign out there."