Seven sexual predators and 10 sex offenders were living in a home just two blocks from campus last month, and most still live there.
The number fluctuates weekly, but as of Tuesday, the address was home to five registered sexual predators and five registered sex offenders, according to state records obtained by The Minaret.
UT officials, criminologists and even Tampa police officers were shocked and worried when they heard about the home. Initially thought to be a state-run halfway house, the private residence has no law enforcement or counseling staff on site.
Though the state requires home visits every six months, Tampa Police officers check on them every three months, said TPD spokewoman Laura McElroy.
‘Most of these guys just want to stay clean,’ she said. ‘To fly below the radar.’
They might have off-site counseling sessions as part of their individual conditions for release. Some might have curfews or a tracking device (see separate story), according to Florida Department of Corrections officials.
Neighbors of the home include Gorrie Elementary school, which lies just beyond the legally dictated buffer between sex offenders and schools. Neighbors, including the elementary school’s administrators, stress they have never had a problem with any of the house’s inhabitants.
Students and officials were surprised to learn of the home and even that such residences exist.
‘I had no idea,’ said Valerie Hurley, a 21-year-old senior. ‘But then again, you never really know who is out there.’
Even criminologists were caught off guard.
‘Wow! That’s surprising!’ said Eric Beauregard, an assistant professor of criminology at USF. ‘I’m concerned what can happen in such a house. I can’t imagine having that many child molesters living two blocks away. This is the first I’ve heard about such a thing.’
He said it can be problematic to have that many registered sex offenders and sexual predators together.
‘When you have 13 or 14 sex offenders in the same house without any professional supervision, they can exchange pornography and talk about their crimes and victims,’ Beauregard said. ‘There is the risk of them planning more crimes-discussing strategies for getting their victims.’
For years, the Cleveland Street home has been a refuge for newly released offenders. It houses a small part of the 23 sex offenders who live within one mile of the University and 153 who live within three miles.
Campus security officials reported that they are alerted every time a sex offender or sexual predator moves into the area. However, when asked, every campus security officer and Tampa Police officer stationed at UT expressed astonishment and even disbelief that such a home was near campus.
Joseph Sclafani, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, stressed that students need to know their surroundings and realize that the university is an urban open-perimeter campus, which means anyone can enter the campus at any time. He pointed out that there have been very few incidents of violence against UT students, faculty and staff in his nearly 20 years on campus.
A comparison to all other four-year universities in the state showed UT ranking somewhere in the top five, depending on how wide the geographic search was. With the exception of the University of Florida, all were urban campuses.
The CSCPA tracks convicted sex offenders attending or employed at institutions of higher learning. UT’s Human Resources officials say they keep no such records and do background checks only if warranted after initial reference checks.’
HR referred reporters to Campus Security, which stated it had no such records because there are no registered sex offenders attending UT or working on campus.
UT has had reported run-ins with sex offenders on campus. Tampa police reports show that two registered sex offenders who were parked in an automobile on campus were written trespass warnings this semester.
Last fall, Austin Hall was cleared out to search for a sex offender who reportedly entered with a student. The search only turned up student alcohol violations.
Several years ago, a student worker was fired after after Gregg Bachman, a Communication professor, learned the stellar employee and bright student was a sex offender who often slept in the department’s studios.
‘He was doing a great job for us, running things like no one had ever run them,’ Bachman said. ‘He was one of the most intelligent students I had that semester.’
For more on The Minaret’s semester-long investigation into sex offenders and sexual predators, click here.