UF and Santa Fe College students can now find out if a registered sex offender or predator is at their school with the release of a new online database on Florida’s Sex Offender Registry.
The registry’s University Search database, which launched last week, collects information on more than 60,000 registered offenders statewide and lists those who attend or work at private or public colleges and universities.
UF doesn’t have any offenders enrolled or working at any of its three campuses listed in the database. At SFC, one offender is listed as enrolled at the college’s Northwest Campus off Northwest 83rd Street.
“It’s important that each of us remains aware of our surroundings,” said Gerald Bailey, commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, in a statement. “With that in mind, the sex predator/offender campus-search function is a valuable source of public safety information.”
Officials have always collected information on registered sex offenders at colleges statewide, said FDLE spokeswoman Samantha Andrews. However, the information hasn’t always been made public, she said, adding that the information on the registry is updated on a “real-time, continuous basis.”
In the spring, the Florida Legislature decided to allocate funds to the FDLE to create the database on the registry’s website. State Sen. Eleanor Sobel (D-Hollywood) sponsored the bill.
“Sex offenders in our system of higher education are a harsh reality,” Sobel said in a statement. “Helping to provide Florida’s students the most efficient tools to identify and inform themselves about potential threats in their lives was a logical next step for me.”
Under the Florida Sexual Predators Act, anyone convicted of a sex crime must register with the state. He or she can be classified as either a predator — if convicted on a capital, life or first-degree felony sex offense — or an offender — if convicted on lesser charges. An offender’s name, picture, current address and charges are then made public through the registry’s website. Offenders must notify a local sheriff’s office when they move and if they decide to enroll, work or volunteer at a college. The information is passed along to the state and school.
In Alachua County, there are 409 registered sex offenders, according to FDLE data. Eleven are between the ages of 18 and 24.
UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes wrote in an email the university supports the database because of its transparency.
“This tool provides students, faculty and staff with information to help make them more aware of their surroundings,” she said.
Jennifer Klein, a UF instructor for the “Sex Offenders” class in the Department of Sociology and Criminology & Law, said she supports the database but doesn’t think the information will stop parents from sending their children off to college.
“We’ve been sending kids to schools for years, and sex offenders have been on campus,” she said. “It’s just now you know they are there.”
Jamie Foote, a 22-year-old UF communication sciences and disorders junior, said the new database will help keep campus safety a priority.
“It’s worth it if it means safety for students on campus,” she said.
A version of this story ran on page 1 on 10/14/2013 under the headline "Sex offender database now includes university search"