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Authorities: Tracking of sex offenders won't change

COVINGTON - Although the Georgia Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that residency restrictions placed on where sex offenders can live are unconstitutional, authorities want residents to know that the ruling will not change how sex offenders are monitored in Newton County.

Under the law, which went into effect last July, sex offenders were prohibited from living within 1,000 feet of churches, day care centers, schools and any other place considered to be where children congregate.

The state Supreme Court found, however, that the law, as written, was not enforceable and sex offenders may now live where they want.

According to a statement released earlier this week by the Georgia Sheriff's Association, deputies will continue registering and tracking sex offenders and informing the public where offenders live through local sheriff's office Web sites, postings in public places and newspaper announcements.

"We will continue to enforce all of the sexual predator laws, except for that very narrow band about the residency requirements," said Newton County Sheriff Joe Nichols.

Following a meeting of the sheriff's association late last year in which the sex offender law was a topic of great debate, Nichols implemented a new sex offender tracking plan where groups of sex offenders from the county's registry were assigned to individual deputies, thereby making it easier to see which ones were in compliance with the law.

Nichols said the tracking program has met with very few problems from offenders and indicated it has received positive feedback from residents.

Earlier this year, the Newton County Sheriff's Office also overhauled its Web site, www.newtonsheriffga.org, offering a new, in-depth sex offender registry.

The site gives users the ability to search for offenders online by using their first name, last name or city of residence. Once the information is entered, a list of the registered offenders matching that criteria will appear, at which point users can click on that person's name to see their picture, charges and a map of the area in which they live.

Residents can also opt to search for sex offenders living within their immediate area by typing in their address, which will show them all the registered sex offenders living within a 1-mile radius of their home. The addresses of the offenders will appear on a map and the user will again be provided a list of their names, which they can click on to see pictures and other pertinent information.

The online registry also offers an e-mail alerting system, which sends out e-mail alerts to residents whenever an offender moves within 1 mile of their address.

The sheriff encourages anyone with questions or concerns about sex offenders to call either Lt. Ezell Brown or Lt. Gwen Hightower at 678-625-1412.

You can also contact the NCSO anonymously at 678-625-5007 or through the Web at www.newtonsheriffga.org by clicking on "anonymous tip line." Those who want a response from NCSO personnel should leave contact information.

"As I always tell people, it's better to be safe than sorry. If (you) ever have any questions, call us and check. That's what we're here for," Nichols said.

Joel Griffin can be reached at joel.griffin@newtoncitizen.com.