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Bradford County battles predators with signs

Sheriff believes people need to know if there's a 'pervert across the street'

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STARKE, Fla. – For nearly a year and half the Bradford County Sheriff's Office has put signs in front of the homes of sexual predators. The idea was controversial from the start.

Sheriff Gordon Smith said its been working well and claims there is really only one reason for it: "We got to protect our children."

Smith added the signs are a warning and told the story of how they started.

"A woman came to my office crying about who was living next door. 'I want to know why I did not know that there was a' -- and I'm going to use her words -- 'a pervert living across the street.'"

Smith said  that bothered him so much that he knew his department could do a better job in informing people that a predator lives nearby. His staff suggested the idea of posting signs after seeing it work in other places, like Baker County. In April 2013, Bradford County began placing the signs in front of the homes.

Twenty three signs are now up in front of the homes of sexual predators in Bradford County.

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"It's just worked out real well for us." Smith said. "It has fit our community well. We have not had any splash-back. We have not had any retaliation."

Bradford County detectives frequently check on predators to make sure they are complying with the law.

Several predators live in one campground. The owner of that property told us and that she does not think its a good idea, but Detective Dawn McKinley explained the reason the signs are being used.

"If it's a woman by herself, or even a man, they have children. They may not want to come here to ask these people for directions because they might be a predator," McKinley said. "They might want to go down a way and ask somebody else. That is what the signs are for."

While the campground owner still said its a mistake, one of the predators who lives at there, James Mort, told us it seems to work.

"It just showing people to be careful around people like us," Mort said. 

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Mort, who said he molested an 8-year-old girl on several occasions, is one of 23 sexual predator in the county.

Mort thinks the signs warning the public are a good thing.

"I've been watching the news about what is going on out here in the world; about the sexual predators, sexual offenders," Mort said. "Its just showing people be careful around people like us."

Mort admitted that he had a problem and needed counseling, which he received upon his release from prison.

Mort said he was taught how to handle situations when it comes to triggers that could bring back his compulsion to molest. He said he knows how to catch himself before he reoffends.

Mort did not want to talk a lot about his case, saying it was hard to explain.

"I did make a big mistake in my past. I learned from it, from being in prison and out here on probation," he said.

Mort says his experience can teach other people to be aware of what's going on around them, and the signs are one way to help -- both him and the community.

"It reminds me... I made one big mistake and now, as a sexual predator, I don't want to go back to it."


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