SEBRING — Imagine logging on to your Facebook page and seeing a mug shot of yourself and reading comments that you are sex offender. That is exactly what happened to a Lake Placid resident on Sunday.
The Highlands County Sheriff’s Office offers a link on its website to Offender Watch. By following a link, users enter a portal and search for an offender by name, city or address. Until now, Offender Watch has been used to track sexual offenders and sexual predators and lets residents know where they are living.
HCSO has admitted there was a mistake made and took the Lake Placid resident off the list when made aware of the issue. On Monday, a HCSO official told the Highlands News-Sun that Sheriff Paul Blackman would call the man whose picture appeared and explain what happened.
According to HCSO’s public information officer, the incident was the result of a button being pushed by mistake. However, he also said that all career offenders will soon be published. He said the county does not have many career offenders.
“Career offenders have always been in the Offender Watch,” he said. “That’s where we (the Sheriff’s Office) find them. However, they are not published for the public to see.”
HCSO is changing that. The career offenders will be listed and published, probably within the week, officials said. There is only one portal to the Offender Watch for three classifications of felons: sex offender, sexual predator and career offender.
The offender’s mug shot is on the left of the screen and the level (classification of offense) is listed in red underneath the felon’s name. HCSO officials think the red labels will avoid some of the confusion as to what classification the offender is in.
When the offender’s name is clicked on, a drop-down profile appears with a list of the offenses and the offender’s address. The system also shows whether or not the offenders are in compliance with registering.
HCSO officials admitted there were some things that “needed to be refined” in the system before they publish the career offenders.
“There’s value to the community in knowing where the career offenders are living,” the spokesman said.