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Keeping a close watch on sexual predators
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No free man is as closely watched by Hall County authorities as Michael Eugene Cromer.

Sheriff’s officials know where he goes during the day and where he lays his head at night. If his movements draw suspicion, he may get a visit from a detective.

Cromer, 43, is one of a handful of people living in Hall County who are considered sexually violent predators, a classification that goes beyond the county’s other 230 registered sex offenders.

As sex offenders draw renewed attention following a highly publicized California kidnapping case, more of Georgia’s convicted felons released into the public are being classified as high-risk. In 2005, there were just seven sexually violent predators living in Georgia among the state’s thousands of registered sex offenders. With the passage of a 2006 law that expanded the classification process, there are now more than 100 predators living in the state, including three in Hall County.

Two local predators, Larry Gordon Dalton and Jason Todd Smith, are monitored by the state probation department. Cromer, who served more than seven years in Pennsylvania prisons for involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and indecent assault on a child, is monitored by the sheriff’s office.

Compared to the other sex offenders the sheriff’s office keeps up with, Cromer gets special attention. He wears a waterproof electronic monitoring ankle bracelet that sends out a signal pinpointing his location at all times. He will wear the bracelet or one like it for the rest of his life.

Each morning, Hall County Sheriff’s Investigator Mike Mazarky brings up a satellite photo map of Hall County on his computer screen with red dots that show him where Cromer’s been.

Homeless, Cromer usually sleeps in a wooded area off McConnell Drive. He walks to local shelters for food and keeps a fairly regular routine, Mazarky said.

If Cromer ventured somewhere he shouldn’t be, such as a school playground, and lingered there, Mazarky would know.

"I’d go have a little talk with him," the investigator said.

Under Georgia law, sexually violent predators are people convicted of sex crimes who were deemed to be at risk of committing another dangerous sexual offense after their release from prison.

Since 2006, 12 members of a sexual offender registry review board appointed by the governor hold monthly regional meetings in five separate regions and meet quarterly as a full board. The board members, several of whom are licensed clinicians, review more than 200 sex offender cases each month using a set of risk-assessment guidelines known as Static 2002 to assist in their decisions. The evaluations may take into account an offender’s criminal record, history of violence, drug or alcohol abuse, and other factors like lack of self-control.

Cromer was designated a predator by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, where he was a prisoner until 2005. When he moved to Georgia, he was required to register with local authorities within 72 hours.

Because he is homeless, Cromer is asked to check in at the sheriff’s office once a week. Mazarky may conduct periodic spot checks as well. With the ankle monitor, he knows where to find him. Cromer has been cooperative and does everything asked of him, Mazarky said.

Dalton, who served seven years for a Jackson County child molestation conviction, is monitored by the state probation office in much the same way. He wears an ankle monitor and his movements are reviewed daily by a probation officer. His probation officer has at least four contacts with him a month, including a check of his residence. Smith, who was convicted of statutory rape, has the same conditions.

Ahmed Holt, manager of the Georgia Department of Corrections’ Sex Offender Administration Unit, said no probationers in the state get more individual attention than those deemed predators.

"Without a doubt, when they’re declared predators, we automatically bump them up to our highest level of supervision," Holt said.

The electronic Global Positioning System used by state officials has areas where children gather mapped out in each county. If a predator spends too much time in those locations, an alert will be sent to his probation officer.

"It sends out a hit immediately if they go into a violation area," Holt said.

Officials acknowledge that while it is illegal for sex offenders to live within 1,000 feet of a location where children congregate, it’s not against the law for them to sit at a park bench or go to a public pool.

However, "you can’t loiter at a park," Holt said. "You have to be there for a specific purpose."

Holt said the change in state law led to the rapid growth in sexual predator classifications. Prior to 2006, a judge or probation officer had to request a review of a sex offender’s status.

"Now everybody is reviewed," Holt said.

With more predators come the demand for more resources to monitor them. Already the sheriff’s office has a full-time investigator solely dedicated to keeping up with sex offenders living in the county.

While sexually violent predators are deemed high-risk, they are not certain to re-offend. Neither Holt or Mazarky are aware of any sexual predators being charged with committing new sexual offenses.

Holt cautions that his office keeps tabs on predators "only to the extent that technology allows it."

"We don’t have an eye in the sky on them, but it is another tool to monitor their whereabouts at all times."