Despite a rash of sex-offender-registry violations in May, the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office says most local offenders are following registration rules.
Strict management by the registry's two full-time employees has improved compliance in recent years, statistics suggest. While eight people were arrested in May for failure to register as sex offenders, that number is up only slightly from last year and on track with what the county experienced in 2013.
It also shows a marked improvement from 2007 to 2010, when the Sheriff's Office was issuing an average of 62 warrants each year, according to annual reports
"We've taken a very aggressive stance in getting the warrants and making sure people comply," Capt. Bob Bromage said.
The registry manages 160 active adult and juvenile sex offenders in Beaufort County, Bromage says.
That registry, which covers all of Beaufort County, also includes 110 offenders who now reside out of the state, as well as eight deported offenders.
Those living in the area must check in:
- once every three months if they are a Tier III offender -- the most serious classification
An offender's classification, which also determines how long he or she remains on the registry, is based on the severity of the crime, the sentence served and any past convictions for sexual offenses.
The Sheriff's Office also conducts random home visits once a year to verify every offender's address.
If someone doesn't come in during the appropriate month, the Sheriff's Office charges them with misdemeanor failure to register.
"The sex offenders are fully explained the rules and regulations they must follow," Bromage says. "I can't imagine they'd forget."
While the Sheriff's Office does not track the number of offenders year to year, it has seen its number of registrations overall increase, also suggesting more offenders are following procedure.
The Sheriff's Office logged 772 registrations in 2013, the most recent year available, up from 685 in 2012 and less than 300 in the three previous years, according to annual reports.
While rulebreakers make up a small portion of registered offenders, they garner a lot of attention.
Nearly 200 people on Facebook shared a post about the eight sex offenders who had failed to register.
Many of those sharers, including state Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort, asked people to call law enforcement if they had any information about the wanted men.
Other county residents say they don't need any reminders to be vigilant.
Sharon Brown of Bluffton's Buck Island Road lives a few houses away from one of the men charged in May.
However, she says she has been heavily monitoring the sex-offender registry for about six years, since she learned it was available to the public.
She's been hyper-vigilant since last May of 2014, when her relative and neighbor Polly Ann Mitchell, 70, was slain in her home. Jerry Lee Manigualt, the man charged with killing her and an elderly Hollywood woman, was also a wanted sex-offender.
"I have a grandbaby in the community," Brown said. "I am always cognizant of my surroundings. I want to know and need to know."
Brown says she typically looks people up when she notices someone suspicious in her neighborhood, or when a friend brings a name to her.
"If I see something that doesn't look right, I do my little investigation on my own," she says.
However, she reserves her concern for those who have committed serious, violent crimes -- not those charged years ago with offenses like voyeurism.
"People change, and that's the bad part about having a registry. It never leaves you," Brown said.
She said she still worries about people coming into the community and slipping through the cracks of the registry, like Manigualt did.
"They can hide in so many areas of the community that you don't know until something happens, and you go, 'Oh my God,'" Brown said. "So you've got to keep a lookout."
Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.