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Signs at Fla. homes warn that sex predators live there

| Tuesday, May 7, 2013, 6:57 p.m.
A sign posted by authorities on Monday, May 6, 2013, in Starke, Fla., is intended to notify passers-by that registered sex offender John Goodman lives in the home.

STARKE, Fla. — Brian Speer thought he had completed all of his obligations when he registered in Bradford County as a convicted sex predator since serving an eight-year prison sentence for child molestation.

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 measure reaches too far and could be harassment against people who have served jail terms and submit to the public registry. Neighboring Baker County started a similar program six years ago.

“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,” said Speer, who was convicted of lewd or lascivious molestation in 2004.

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.

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 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.

In Bradford County, Smith said that when his chief of jails told him about Baker County's sign program, he jumped at the idea.

Brad Smith, the office's chief of operations, said the sheriff cleared it with the county attorney. The first signs were posted April 16.

“We realized it was not only a good idea, but something important to ensure that a consistent notification was being made,” Brad Smith said. He said residents not living in Bradford County when original notifications go out could be unaware of a sexual predator's presence. With permanent signs, that is less likely.

The signs are only for sexual predators, not for all sex offenders, Brad Smith said. Florida defines a sexual predator as someone who has been convicted of a first-degree sex crime such as child molestation or sexual battery or has been convicted of two second-degree sex crimes such as solicitation of a minor or lewd, lascivious, or indecent assault. A judge can designate a person a sex predator.

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