Last week, 18 sex offenders in Bradford County, Florida, found large red signs outside their homes that read, "a convicted sexual predator... lives at this location." The Bradford County Police Department installed the signs.
I spoke with Brad Smith, the department's Chief of Operations (pictured above left, looking least smug), to see what this new method of community notification was all about.
VICE: What's with the signs, Brad?
Captain Brad Smith: Florida statutes say that we must notify the public of any sex offenders in our jurisdiction. We already do that with Facebook and by going out into the area to notify people when the person first moves in, but we realized there was a possible issue with continued notification. For instance, if somebody moves in after we've gone around notifying people, then they're not aware that there's a predator there. We're just trying to do everything we can to make the public aware. And, in a certain sense, it protects the predator from having people, especially children, approaching their residence without being duly notified.
OK... So it's just sexual predators with child victims? Or is it all sexual predators?
It could be somebody who raped an adult or a child. In the state of Florida being a sex offender and a sexual predator are different things. A sexual predator is somebody who's been convicted of a first-degree felony that's sexual in nature or multiple second-degree felonies that are sexual in nature.
Right. Any plans to extend this to other crimes? Like murderers or serial scam artists or whatever?
Only if the Florida statutes said that we had to. At this point in time, the only statute that's directing the sheriff to do anything is with sexual predators.
I know this information is available online already, but do you think the signs will invite people to harass the people at these addresses?
No. We don't expect that to happen, and if it does, we will do everything in our power to protect the person's rights. But I don't believe this will entice anybody to approach the houses.
Are you not worried that these people will sue? This seems like something that goes beyond the statutory directive for notification.
Well, you know as well as I do that people can sue anybody for anything these days. We're certain challenges wouldn't stand up in court though, because we're being directed by a Florida statute, and the statute specifically says, "the sheriff of the county or the police chief of the municipality where the sexual predator resides shall notify the community and the public of the presence of the sexual predator in a manner that is deemed appropriate by the sheriff or the chief of police."
Do you predict a rise in the number of trick-or-treaters these guys will get on Halloween? I feel you guys are really raising the bar in terms of "that creepy house in the neighborhood that all the kids dare each other to go to on Halloween."
No... As a matter of fact, for the past several years, we've gone out to the residences that these people are registered at and notified them that they need to make sure that they do everything possible not to entice any kids to their houses. Like, don't have candy to give out, don't have their porch lights on, and don't answer the door if kids do come knocking.
But when you were a kid, wouldn't you have totally gone to a house with one of those signs and all the lights off?
I didn't even like going to the scary movies when I was a kid, let alone going to scary houses. Nobody had to tell me that I had to be careful. And in this day and age, kids are much smarter and heed warnings better than I did when I was growing up.
Right. OK, thanks Brad.