Deputies scan license plates to track sex offenders

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Deputies are using license plates to keep track of sex offenders and find out whether they are frequenting places where kids hang out.

"There are a lot of sexual predators in my neighborhood," said Jenelle, a concerned mother.

One of Jenelle's biggest concerns is not knowing how close a registered sex offender is to her children. She checks the Sex and Violent Offender Registry on a regular basis.

"Just down the street there are two and my children are riding bikes and walking up and down the street and playing the backyard," she said.

Jenelle also likes the fact that deputies can find out if a registered sex offender is out and about within seconds, using new license plate readers.

Marion County Sheriff's Deputy Brad Allen has the readers mounted on the outside of his cruiser, allowing him to cruise parking lots to check license plates in an instant. They use the readers in high traffic areas frequented with children, like schools, parks and shopping malls.

"It helps us to know where these offenders are on a day-to-day basis. Not that we are out looking for them, but it helps us know they are at a park, they are at a school," Allen said.

In December alone, deputies detected close to 100 offenders in and out of area shopping malls.

"It's giving all the plate's information on these individuals. The majority of the people are obviously not sex offenders," Allen said.

The sheriff's department obtained four new plate readers for about $80,000. A grant also picks up the tab for department overtime, too.

"I think it is a good idea. As parents, we should know where these people are. We need to know where they are and what they are doing at all times," Jenelle said.

The license plate readers also allows deputies to check on cars belonging to other people in trouble with the law.

"We are also able to detect people wanted on criminal warrants, stolen vehicles, people who are driving a motor vehicle while suspended," said Capt. Michael Hobbs, Marion County Sheriff's Department.

As Jenelle keeps an eye on what sex offenders live in her neighborhood, deputies say the license plate readers gives them one more tool to help keep families like hers a little safer.

"Several of them I have checked are repeat offenders," she said.

She says it's a relief to know as she tracks the offenders at home, someone is also tracking them on the go.