Loudon, Loudon County (WVLT) - Tennessee law requires convicted sex offenders to report where they live and what they drive.
But how do you know they're telling the truth?
Volunteer TV’s Gordon Boyd shows us how one small-town police force is getting neighbors to take action, but it's raising some questions.
Think of this as expanded neighborhood watch. Except these neighbors have 40 hours of training, their own uniforms, a marked car, and a badge.
“Kind of the eyes and the ears for the police department,” Lesley Brooks has learned to keep her eye out for lots of things, in all her years selling real estate.
But as a Loudon VIP, Volunteer in Police Service, she's doing more than check on senior citizens. “When we're driving around or we're out in the public and we see something that the police need to be aware of, we let them know.”
“The whole purpose is to protect the community in general,” says volunteer coordinator Officer Kenny DeBoer.
Which is why Loudon's Police Chief is asking his citizens to volunteer, to help keep track of the half dozen fellow citizens required to register as sex offenders.
“They have been given instructions that they are to report any illegal activity to the police officers,” Chief James Webb says. “I thought that was fabulous. When enough police cars go by, then they know they're being monitored quite regularly.”
“There's no question that police departments need additional resources, and that they need additional officers,” says Hedy Weinberg from the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee.
The problem, the head of Tennessee's ACLU says, letting volunteers do the spot checks. “Would raise questions if the person came out, what one would intend to be a non-controversial, non-confrontational situation, could in fact heat up and become more complicated.”
The records of Loudon's registered offenders show convictions ranging sexual battery to aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor.
“We don't get involved in altercations or anything,” says Brooks.
“They're specifically instructed not to do that, not to confront any law violators,” says Chief Webb.
Rather, Chief James Webb says, volunteers are to radio for help immediately. “But, if in fact, there is a problem, that information, if it's involved in a criminal case, could in fact, not even be admissible based on how it's received.”
“I think we have to take some chances to protect our community, and that's what I'm willing to do,” Brooks adds.
The Loudon Police Department has 15 sworn officers to patrol a city of 5,000 people.
The volunteer program puts 15 more bodies on the street, without guns, but with, the chief believes, presence of mind to recognize trouble and summon the trained help to deal with it.