In early May, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and numerous agencies from around the Panhandle of Florida conducted a multi-phased operation focused on addressing sexual offender and predator violations.
The first phase was an undercover operation focused on law enforcement officers posing as children online.
According to the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, the “undercover children” made their alleged age clear and waited to be solicited by an adult suspect.
Once the suspect asked to meet in person, a location was agreed upon.
When the suspect arrived, they would be taken into custody by members of the United States Marshal Task Force.
According to the sheriff’s office, this undercover operation resulted in the arrest of three such individuals.
The investigation is on-going regarding additional information obtained from this operation with further charges potentially pending.
The second phase of the operation dealt with compliance issues related to registered sexual offenders and predators living in Jackson County.
As part of the second phase, Jackson County deputies travelled to the offenders’ homes and verified all of the information included in their most recent registration.
The sheriff’s office says that if an offender was found to be out of compliance, the registered offender would be taken into custody; as a result of this second phase, the sheriff’s office reports that 32 registered offenders were arrested for non-compliance.
According to the sheriff’s office, when a sex offender or sexual predator is placed on the offender registry, they are required to register with the local sheriff’s office.
Each time that offender moves, changes employment, alters contact information, or obtains a new vehicle, they are required to report that information to local law enforcement.
In addition, offender are required to register all “internet identifiers,” which include social media
accounts, email addresses, and any means that they might use to communicate electronically.
According to the sheriff’s office, the operation focused heavily on offender’s failure to register their social media accounts.
“Often times, sexual offenders and predators are not lurking in the bushes. They are prowling for their victims online,” states the sheriff’s office in a report issued in late May. “The conversations start out harmless for the most part, but the offender or predator has already engaged in the “grooming” process from the beginning as they slowly become more open about their intentions.”
According to law enforcement, offenders may use online platforms to target at-risk children who come from broken homes, who have experimented with drugs, and those who have been bullied.
Most sexual offenders and predators are not prohibited from owning social media accounts, but are required to register them.
Finally, the third phase of the operation addressed outstanding warrants regarding sex crimes, crimes against children, and failure to register charges related to sex offenders; three such warrants were served in Jackson County, although the sheriff’s office notes that some of the individuals arrested during this stage of operation were not sexual offenders.
“During the course of conducting compliance checks or searching for fugitives, law enforcement encountered additional individuals with warrants, or those in possession of narcotics,” states the sheriff’s office.
“Jackson County Sheriff Donnie Edenfield would like to extend his heartfelt appreciation to those who
participated in this operation. Without their assistance, it would not have been possible,” writes the sheriff’s office.
Assisting and participating in agencies and divisions include: the Walton County Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Florida Caribbean Regional Fugitive Task Force of the United States Marshal Service, Homeland Security Investigations, United States Customs and Border Protection, the Bay County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Highway Patrol, the Lynn Haven Police Department, the Holmes County Sheriff’s Office, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office, the Panama City Police Department, the Sneads Police Department, the Panama City Beach Police Department, and the State Attorney’s Office.
From the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, the law enforcement officers in the Special Victim’s Unit, Sex Offender Compliance Division, Criminal Investigations Division, Drug Task Force, Reserve Unit, Patrol Division, and the K-9 Division were involved in the operation.
According to the sheriff’s office, the operation resulted in a total of 45 arrests, 114 felony charges, six misdemeanor charges, 27.21 grams of methamphetamines seized, 3.91 grams of cocaine seized, over 11 grams of marijuana seized (with paraphernalia), $9,400 in stolen currency recovered, 11 stolen guns recovered.
According to the sheriff’s office, Jackson County currently has 181 registered sexual offenders. 156 of those are classified as sexual offenders, 20 are classified as sexual predators, and five are classified as juvenile sexual offenders.
Ashley Hunter – email@example.com