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Special Report: Unprotected Prey

Updated: Friday, November 22, 2013 |
Special Report: Unprotected Prey story image
PORTAGE, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - Does your child's bus stop put them in the path of a predator?

Right now, there are state laws regulating how close sex offenders can live near schools, but there are no laws regulating how close they can be to school bus stops.

Newschannel 3 did some digging to see how many offenders were living in reach of our local children and how school districts are keeping them safe.

We decided to focus just on the City of Portage, mapping where all the registered sex offenders live, and comparing it to school bus routes.

While there are offenders living close to bus stops all over the city, there was one area that jumped  out at us.

A motel that has nearly a dozen sex offenders living there, just steps away from two school bus stops.

Along Helen Avenue in Portage, there's family homes, kids toys, parents seeing their kids off to school.

But Amanda Penn says there's a big reason she makes sure her son gets on the school bus safely every day.

In this neighborhood, bound by Portage Road, Lovers Lane, and I-94, there are 13 people listed as sex offenders on the state police registry.

Ten of them call the Airport Inn home.

According to the registry website, 7 of them were convicted of having sexual contact with a child under 13 years old.

The others: attempted CSC of a child, indecent exposure, and third degree CSC.

Directly in front of the motel is a bus stop for middle and high school students, and right around the corner—only about 50 yards away—the elementary school kids get picked up.

That's a fact scares some parents.

"Every morning, every time he gets off the bus to come home. He's right here. I'm always afraid of something happening," Penn said.

Other neighbors are all too aware of the sex offenders at the  motel.

"We're aware, children don't play outside unsupervised," said parent Christine Vlietstra.

Many of them wonder why so many sex offenders call this place home?
Officer Paul Sherfield registers sex offenders for Portage Police. He says the state is placing them there.

"As they get out of jail and have to move into someplace and you got to get them to start there and the parole officers keep real close tabs on them," Sherfield said.

Officer Sherfield says the Department of Corrections has a deal worked out with the motel.

And the offenders stay there for a couple months, but some have stayed for years.

"I've had as many as 20 some in there," Sherfield said. "Depends on how many they're releasing and how many they get out."

We took our findings to Ron Herron, the Portage Public Schools Assistant Superintendent of Operations. He says the district knows about the motel and other clusters where sex offenders are living.

"We get alerts when sex offenders move into the district, by zip code and we were able to plot those within our transportation routing system," Herron said. "We plot those and then we determine where we have our routing stops at to keep kids safe."

Herron says there's only a bus stop at the front of the motel when there are students living there.

No other kids are expected to use that stop.

For other bus stops near sex offenders, they rely on bus drivers and parents keeping a close watch.

"The safest way to keep a kid safe is to have parent supervision at all times," Herron said. "We know that's not possible at all times with certain parents, if they work together…they can make sure their students are safe."

"We can't tell people where to live, or where to move," Herron added. "And sex offenders move in and out and that's one of the reasons we continue to monitor that situation."

Officer Sherfield says police and parole officers keep an eye on the offenders. Many of them have an electronic tether, and are not allowed to leave their room at certain times.

"They're under scrutiny. And if something were to happen, they're right in front of that location," he said. "Everyone immediately is going to be looking at them."

But most parents say, it's unfortunate this has to be in their backyard.

"I have no choice," Penn said. "I live around here."

Florida and Georgia are the only states that have laws preventing sex offenders from living close to bus stops.

Portage schools says it doesn't notify parents about sex offenders, but if there's an issue they encourage parents to contact them.
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