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Hillsborough shelters shut out sex offenders

Sex offenders in the county must make other plans in case of a hurricane. "There are other people more needy," the sheriff says.

By Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler, Times Staff Writer
Published June 16, 2005

TAMPA - Sheriff David Gee has a message for the 1,200 registered sex offenders and predators living in Hillsborough County.

If a hurricane blows through, don't plan on going to one of the county-operated shelters for refuge. Make other arrangements.

"Most of those people, by the nature of their sentence, can't be around children," Gee said. "And you're going to have children at shelters. So I think the issue takes care of itself."

Gee plans to send letters to registered sex offenders and predators, urging them to plan now for a safe place to stay in the event of a hurricane.

County Commissioner Ronda Storms asked Gee this week about the possibility of creating a separate shelter for sex offenders and predators.

"She asked, would I entertain the idea of having a special shelter for them, and I think my answer was no, they can take care of themselves," Gee said Wednesday.

"As far as spending resources to have some school or jail special for them, I think there are other people more needy of our resources," he said.

In fact, the commission reinforced Gee's plan Wednesday, unanimously directing its staff to create a policy prohibiting sex offenders from entering shelters.

The Emergency Operations Center runs the shelters, and the Sheriff's Office sends deputies to each one for security.

Gee said deputies won't check IDs of people entering shelters, but if a sex offender is found to be in a shelter near children, he could be arrested as a violation of the conditions of his release.

Storms' inquiry was the latest example of anxiety fueled by the recent murders of two Tampa Bay area girls who authorities say were killed by sex offenders.

In a separate item Wednesday, commissioners also voted to explore posting photographs of the worst sex offenders, those considered predators, in parks near where they live. County staff members will research the idea and were asked to bring back a proposal in July.

Staff writer Bill Varian contributed to this report. Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at 813 226-3373 or svansickler@sptimes.com

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