Tracking more than 700 sex offenders in Muscogee and Russell counties became a little easier Thursday after law enforcement officers were sworn in to work both sides of the Chattahoochee River.
With about 550 registered sex offenders in Muscogee County and 160 in Russell County, law enforcement officers are constantly in touch with one another to check on an offender. They make sure the offender's address is registered and also verify information on where the person is employed.
Nine officers who are charged with that task were sworn in by Russell County Probate Judge Alford Harden Jr. during a brief, 2 p.m. ceremony on the 14th Street Pedestrian Bridge between Columbus and Phenix City. They included five Muscogee County sheriff's deputies, one Phenix City police officer and three Russell County sheriff deputies.
Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor said the agreement is similar to one used by the Metro Narcotics Task Force to track drugs across the Chattahoochee River.
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"Today, we've gotten together and done the same thing as far as sex offender notification," he said.
The two cities are so connected or intertwined that sex offenders are crossing the river daily.
"We need to have a better handle on our sex offenders on both sides of the river," Taylor said.
Muscogee County Sheriff John Darr said the agreement gives deputies another tool to track sex offenders.
"I think this was important because at the end of the day, it's going to make both counties and cities safer," he said. "It's going to allow the ability for these officers to follow up on individuals."
Maj. Randy Robertson said the Muscogee County Sheriff's Office has three deputies assigned full time to track sex offenders and two others assisting in that task with other duties.
Every 30 days, deputies check on where the sex offenders live and where they are working.
"We are one of the higher concentrations in the state for a county our size," Robertson said. "It's unusual."
If deputies find a violation with a sex offender moving from one state to another without reporting, they take out warrants and charge them, Robertson said. "We are hoping this is going to make the community safer," he said.
Phenix City Police Chief Ray Smith and a representative from the U.S. Marshals Service also were present for the agreement.
Anyone with questions about sex offenders in Muscogee County should call 706-225-4225 and ask for SMART, the Sex Offender Management and Registration Team. To contact Russell County Sheriff's Office, call 334-298-6535.