Keeping predators at bay
In recent years, many local governments have created zoning laws to prevent convicted sex offenders from living near schools, playgrounds or other areas where children gather. However, those laws have spurred a wave of litigation by sex offenders and civil rights groups. American City & County asked readers of its weekly e-mail newsletter if the zoning laws are an appropriate way to protect children from sex offenders and, if not, what local governments should do to address the problem. Below are some of the responses.
“Congress passed the Wetterling Act [in 1994] requiring states to implement a sex-offender registration program. [Two years later, Congress] passed Megan’s Law and, [in 2006, passed] the Adam Walsh Act, which requires all states to conduct community notification and mandates that specified information about sex offenders be released to the public.
We know that sex offenders are largely unknown to people in the community, have a high risk of re-offending, and the system that provides for their supervision is overwhelmed. Therefore, we have a fiduciary duty to implement a strict level of compliance that gives local governments prima facie evidence to expedite compliance and prosecution. The zoning process is an excellent method for sex offender compliance because it is simple to define and implement.”
— John Lampl, city manager, Morrow, Ga.
“Barnstable, [Mass.,] adopted in October 2006, [the] Barnstable Active Information for Children Awareness Ordinance to advance the public safety and welfare of residents. [Along with information on hazardous materials and traffic accidents, the ordinance states that no high-risk sex offenders] ‘shall take up residence apart from [certain blood relatives or spouses] within 2,000 feet of [schools and playgrounds].’
[The ordinance] is designed to give pertinent information about the sites children play on. No one has been eliminated from living within the town limits, yet known areas where children congregate have [been screened to assure that the children are safe from all known hazards.]”
— James Crocker, councilor, Barnstable, Mass.