CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The number of registered sex offenders calling Mecklenburg County home is up 56% compared to 10 years ago, according to data from the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office.
The report showed the group stands at 1,080 registered sex offenders now compared to 694 under Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office supervision in 2008.
Jonathan Neal, the 21-year-old charged with the rape and sexual battery of an Uber driver near uptown last month, is one of those registered sex offenders. Neal's name was added to the North Carolina Sex Offender Registry roughly three months before the alleged crime.
"I was like, 'No, no. I don't like this," his alleged victim said last week. "I started crying and screaming, praying someone would hear me."
The Charlotte area is home to more than 3,400 registered sex offenders in all. State law prohibits those people from living within 1,000 feet of a school, daycare or park.
The number of new registrations is on pace to be up again in 2018 for the fifth year in a row, according to an analysis of local sex offender data. There were 239 new local registrations in 2017, according to state records.
UNCC Psychology Professor Richard McAnulty is an expert on human sexual behavior. He said there's no doubt the big city population growth is responsible for part of the sex offender increase, but U.S. Census data shows this group is growing at a faster percentage than the rest of the Mecklenburg County population.
"We have a growing number of people moving to the area, including people who have criminal histories," he said. "It is possible that there has been an increase in certain sex offenses."
McAnulty said there are likely other factors at play, too.
"There's been in some parts of the country a trend toward being more vigorous in prosecuting sex offenders, more vigorous in enforcing registration," he said.
Zack Morton is one of the enforcers. The Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office deputy is tasked with checking, at least twice a year, whether registered sex offenders live where they say they're living.
"Some cases we'll do more," he said. "If they're not at the registered address, at that point, we'll take out warrants."
While the increase is worth your attention, Morton said most sex offenders follow the rules.
"Probably 90% if not more of our sex offenders are in compliance," he said.
McAnulty said most of the people on the list are not a threat. He knows some are charged with crimes like statutory rape and indecent exposure.
"The group of people who are registered sex offenders is a very mixed group of people," he said. "Some of them, a small percentage of them, is probably a risk to the community. The majority are probably not realistically."
More than 200 sex offenders in the Charlotte area are classified as aggravated, predators or likely to re-offend, according to state data.
In the first three days of this month, four new sex offenders registered to live in Mecklenburg and surrounding counties totaling 124 new registrations so far this year.