Hot Topic: Nursing Homes for Sex Offenders & Violent Offenders

MA- Enforcing bylaw on sex offenders may be a challenge

ISSUE : Senior Housing. Can registered sex offender STOP the aging process? Since every human being will age, it is likely that elderly sex offenders would need housing typical to anyone else who is elderly. This ordinance would prevent elderly sex offenders from obtaining the senior housing they need.

5-10-2008 Massachusetts:

It's one thing to adopt a bylaw restricting where convicted sex offenders can live. It's another matter to enforce the new rules.

'It really has been relatively quiet, much to my surprise. At least now we have this ability to have something to fall back on.'

Southborough adopted such a bylaw at Town Meeting on April 17. If approved by the state attorney general's office, which has approved similar bylaws in Dedham, Marlborough, and West Boylston, registered sex offenders would be barred from residing in 90 percent of the town, according to a presentation delivered by Police Chief William Webber to Town Meeting members.

The bylaw bars registered offenders from living within 1,000 feet of schools, day-care centers, elderly housing, parks, and other facilities. Convicted offenders deemed likely to commit another sexual assault - those classified as Level 2 or 3 predators - would also be barred from living within 1,000 feet of places of worship.

The bylaw also prohibits registered sex offenders from loitering within 500 feet of school bus stops. A grandfather clause allows offenders living in Southborough prior to the bylaw's enactment to remain in their residences.

The question now is how rigorously the bylaw can be enforced. Based on Marlborough's experience with a similar law, the question remains unanswered. Marlborough police say they've invoked the city's ordinance only three times since it was adopted in May 2007. They stand by the law as an important tool to protect children and others from sexual predators, but admit it doesn't have much of a track record.

"It really has been relatively quiet, much to my surprise," said Marlborough Police Chief Mark Leonard, adding, "At least now we have this ability to have something to fall back on."

Detective Martha Shea, who oversees enforcement of Marlborough's ordinance, said the law's residency requirement has been used twice, while its loitering clause has been invoked once.

In one case, she said, a registered offender went to jail for a short time, and since he had continued paying his rent he was allowed to return to his home. In another case, an offender left his residence and wanted to move back. Police decided the grandfather clause didn't apply and denied his request.

In October, police determined that a registered sex offender was loitering near a housing area for senior citizens on Main Street, Shea said. He was cited, but his case was dropped in Marlborough District Court at a pretrial hearing with the court's clerk-magistrate, she said. Under the bylaw, the penalty for violating the loitering clause is $150.

Shea said she thinks the ordinance has discouraged registered sex offenders from moving to the city. "We have a lot of rooming houses, so we had a lot of Level 3s coming in on a pretty consistent basis," she said. "Now there's not. I can't prove the ordinance did that. But I have to think it did."

The state Sex Offender Registry Board's website counts 33 Level 2 and nine Level 3 offenders living in Marlborough. A board spokesman, Terrel Harris, said a total of 51 sex offenders were registered in Marlborough in April 2007. The board did not have a breakdown of offender levels from past dates, he said.

'It really has been relatively quiet, much to my surprise. At least now we have this ability to have something to fall back on.'

A single Level 3 offender and four Level 2 offenders live in Southborough, according to the registry board's website,

Webber plans to assign an officer to handle Southborough's new bylaw and develop a system to monitor the town's 750 bus stops. That's too many for his force to patrol, so he'll probably depend on help from citizens, he said.

"Anyone loitering in Southborough, they're going to call," he said. "They call about people driving too fast. They're certainly going to call about some seedy looking character."

Webber acknowledged the possibility that offenders could circumvent the bylaw by not telling police they're moving into town. But state law also mandates that sex offenders register their whereabouts, he said; if they don't and are caught, they go back to jail.

Short of creating a massive surveillance operation, Webber said, state and local laws depend on compliance from registered sex offenders. "In an open society, these are some of the risks we take," he said.

Since July, Framingham officials have been considering a bylaw like the ones in Marlborough and Southborough. Board of Selectmen chairman Jason Smith said no decision has been made, but he supports a mechanism to keep tabs on convicted sex offenders.

"We have an abundance of them, to the point where public safety comes first," Smith said. "You should never be afraid of walking out of your front door knowing in the back of your mind a Level 3 offender is watching your every move."

Framingham has 19 Level 2 and 74 Level 3 registered sex offenders, according to the state's website.

Smith said he and his colleagues need to study how prohibiting offenders from some areas might push them into others. He would support state legislation requiring registered sex offenders to wear electronic bracelets that would give police their location at all times, he said. ..more.. by John Dyer, Globe Correspondent

No comments: