9 Investigates central Florida sex offender population

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ORLANDO, Fla. - Since 2005 the sex offender population in Florida has increased 28 percent, making it one of the fastest-growing populations in the state. 

While many of the sex offenders convicted in Florida continue to live in the state, a growing portion of the sex offender population is from out of state, moving to Florida after serving time in other states.

“I do not believe that it is healthy for a community to have a group of them in one location,” said Former East Lake Chamber of Commerce President Catherine Hanson.

In 2011, Hanson led an effort to prevent a sex offender community development in Lake County.  The development, which was eventually abandoned, would have been built in the Sorrento area.

“We don’t need them to come as a group here,” said Hanson.

Since 2009, Lake County’s sex offender population has grown from 401 to 456, a 13.7 percent increase.  Part of Lake’s increase is due to sex offenders moving in and in Lady Lake, there are 22 registered sex offenders, seven being from out of state.

“Florida’s laws are pretty strict about how fast they have to register when they come in from out of state,” said Sgt. Jim Vachon of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office.

In the last decade, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office has increased its staffing to deal with sex offenders, dedicating more deputies to the unit.

“As the sex offender population has increased we have also had to increase our resources to tracking and monitoring them,” said Vachon.

Lake County’s sex offender population is actually growing at a slower rate than other central Florida counties.  Orange, Volusia, and Brevard all reported double-digit increases in sex offenders in the last five years with Orange County leading the group with an increase of 24.2 percent since 2009. 

Statewide, the sex offender population increased from 18,607 in 2005 to 23,813 in 2012.

Using the state database of sex offenders, Eyewitness News spoke to several out of state sex offenders at their homes to find out why they relocated to Florida. 

The most common answer among sex offenders when asked why they moved to the state was “employment”, with offenders saying they came to the area to find work.  Other answers ranged from affordable housing to retirement and family issues.

Under state law sex offenders are not allowed to reside within 1,000 feet of a school, playground or day care center. 

Some communities have passed their own guidelines for sex offenders, increasing the distance requirements from 1,000 feet to 2,000 or 2,500 feet. 

The distance requirements often mean that offenders can only live in specific neighborhoods, creating what are known as sex offender clusters. 

 In one such cluster in Orange County off Kirkman Road, there are 74 registered sex offenders, and 10 are from out of state.

By the numbers:

BREVARD - (16.7 percent)

2009 - 711

2010 - 729

2011 - 760

2012 - 793

2013 – 830

 

LAKE – (13.7 percent)

2009  - 401

2010 – 405

2011 – 422

2012 – 445

2013 – 456

 

VOLUSIA – (22.2 percent)

2009 – 752

2010 - 806

2011 - 841

2012 - 861

2013 - 919

 

ORANGE - (24.2 percent)

2009 – 1665

2010 – 1810

2011 – 1858

2012 – 1936

2013 – 2068