2014-05-23 / Front Page

Sex offender ordinance passed

By Duke Harrington
Contributing Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — It may have taken two hours for the South Portland City Council to debate a Main Street zoning issue, but it dispatched the question of where sex offenders can live in a matter of minutes.

In a unanimous 7-0 vote, councilors passed a Sex Offender Residency Restrictions amendment to the South Portland’s Police Ordinance that bars anyone convicted of a Class A, B, or C sex crime against a person age 14 or younger from living within 750 feet of any school or public park within city limits.

The new rules become effective 20 days from Monday’s vote, on June 9.

“This is long overdue,” said Councilor Linda Cohen. “One of our duties is to protect our citizens from whatever bad things might befall them, especially the little ones.”

“It is surprising how many communities don’t have something like this in place,” Mayor Jerry Jalbert agreed.

Until 2009, Maine law prevented cities and towns from enacting residency restrictions on sex offenders. The new statute, hammered out in negotiations between the Maine Municipal Association, Department of Corrections and Maine Coalition Against Sexual Abuse, honored Maine’s tradition of home rule, allowing municipalities to have a say, but only within the strict confines of state law.

The ordinance passed by the council is the maximum restriction allowed by the new state law.

“The thing that is really sad is that the people who are already living within those distances are grandfathered and they can continue living there,” said Councilor Maxine Beecher.

At an April 28 council workshop on the subject, Police Chief Ed Googins said six of 10 convicted sex offenders now living in South Portland reside within the excluded zones, which includes areas around 11 schools and 17 parks “primarily used by children,” largely in the central and eastern parts of the city.

Googins was not able to say at that time how many, if any, of those 10 sex offenders had been convicted of the more serious crimes targeted in the ordinance. A May 19 check of the Maine Sex Offender Registry turned up nine registered sex offenders living in South Portland. Of those, five are reported to have committed crimes against minors. However, all of them can stay in their homes. They also would get a waiver if that home is “moved or enlarged” and it ends up in the restricted area.

According to Jalbert, there are another 16 registered sex offenders who work or attend school in South Portland.

“Any one of them could move here at any time. We do have to have some sort of means in place,” he said at the May 5 first reading of the ordinance.

Any sex offenders who move into a restricted area after June 9 would be issued a 30-day notice about the need to relocate. Failure to do so would draw fines that could reach $500 per day.

South Portland is reportedly the third community to pass residency restrictions on sex offenders since the new state law went into effect. The Somerset County towns of Anson and Bingham passed similar rules earlier this year. Bangor and Portland have both previously considered such restrictions, but ultimately passed on adopting any residency rules for sex offenders.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine has spoken out against such residency restrictions on sex offenders, saying they are not proven to be effective in curtailing repeat crimes. However, the group never spoke at any South Portland meeting on the topic and ACLU of Maine Communications Director Rachel Healy did not return a request for comment.

Although he has previously addressed the ACLU of Maine’s reported concerns, Googins’ sole comment Monday was, “I do believe this is the right thing for our community to do.”

“I agree 100 percent,” said Brigham Street resident Russ Lunt. “This is the right thing to do. Just about every neighborhood has a school or a park or something. This pretty much covers citywide.”

“There are still plenty of places where people can live regardless of what they may have had for felony convictions,” Jalbert said. “We’re not saying people can’t live in the city of South Portland, we’re only saying there are some areas that are more sensitive.”

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