Thursday, June 23, 2005

Hernando Sheriff Seeks Shelter Ban On Sex Offenders

Source: Hernando Today

Hernando County Sheriff Richard Nugent said he doesn't want sexual offenders and predators inside hurricane shelters this year.

They will have to stay at a friend's home or make other arrangements, said Nugent, who is proposing the new rules and regulations that will soon go before Hernando County commissioners for approval.

Until now, sex crime felons had been welcomed at shelters. But with two deaths in the past year of girls by sexual offenders, the social climate has changed, Nugent said.

``It's high profile right now [so] it is just really common sense,'' Nugent said. ``As sheriff, I have an obligation to provide for the security of the residents in the shelter. I know of no other way of doing it.''

Keeping these sex criminals out of the shelter would decrease the likelihood of violence, Nugent said. With only two deputies to staff each shelter, there would not be enough law enforcement presence to handle segregating the offenders from the general shelter population and also thwarting a possible fight, he said.

Shelters are places where children sleep overnight and are not a place for offenders, he said.

It's unknown how many sex offenders and predators lived in evacuation zones in Pasco County during the 2004 hurricane season or how many of them ended up in shelters, said Jim Johnston, interim director of Pasco Emergency Management, but county officials are working to find out and find a solution.

``We don't really know if we had any of them in shelter population. Shelter events typically are a day or two event, and typically those individuals can fly under the wire so to speak,'' he said previously. ``Fortunately, we had no incidents, but we have got to evaluate it. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered.''

Hillsborough County recently announced it also would bar sexual felons from hurricane shelters. Other communities are considering similar bans.

Nugent said the new regulations would ultimately protect offenders who may be threatened while in close confines of a shelter for so long.

Nugent said barring sexual criminals has never been an issue.

``But we've never had two kids killed in a very short period of time,'' he said. ``I think everyone's really looking at their policies and procedures.''

There is plenty of advance notice of an impending hurricane so sexual offenders and predators have time to make evacuation arrangements, he said.

Nugent planned to send a letter Wednesday to county commissioners notifying them of his proposal. Because they operate the shelters, commissioners have the last word.

If approved, Nugent said letters would be mailed to the area's more than 200 sexual offenders and predators advising them of the change.

Deputies will have access to sexual felons' photos at the shelter to identify anyone who tries to get in without permission. If an offender were identified, he would be escorted off the property.

Hernando County Commission Chairman Robert Schenck said the issue would be discussed at an upcoming commission meeting.

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