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Sex Offenders in Your Neighborhood – Would You Prefer Residential Restrictions Or GPS Monitoring?

My experience with sex offender residency laws is limited to the laws of Miami-Dade County, Florida, and cities within that county’s boundaries. Each state, city, and community will have developed different laws and therefore will have different experiences with the enforcement of those laws. So please don’t take my conclusion as carved in stone. I ask the reader to take my experiences and match them with theirs. Perhaps by doing this and forming a discussion, a uniform solution to this problem can be found.

The main problem with sex offenders in Miami-Dade is that they basically fall into two categories: 1. The person is on probation, meets with a probation officer who checks on their whereabouts and if they are meeting the terms of their probation. 2. Subject has completed his time and must report his address four times a year to the Sheriff’s Office (Miami-Dade County has a police department). The police will check addresses from time to time and ensure that they comply with laws and ordinances.

The problem with the second category is that the sex offender can give a fake address that shows they are law compliant or register as homeless allowing them to live anywhere. There really is no way for the police to prove that a person does not live at an address or that they are not truly homeless. A sex offender could have a house right across the street from a school or a playground, declare himself homeless and live his life. Being at home does not mean that he lives there. The police would be obligated to have my address monitored by officers and to prove that he has been at the address for a time which, by law, establishes that he is a resident of the address. Also remember that you can own a house and not live in it. Even sex offenders on probation with curfews will sleep at another place they have given as an address, then return home when the curfew ends (in Florida, most curfews for sex offenders are 10:00 p.m. at 6:00 a.m., so they are free to move just when your children leave for school).

The other problem with residency restrictions is a phenomenon called pooling. Some communities will be far enough away from schools and parks and appear as a legal place of residence for sex offenders. All the sex offenders are starting to move there, or congregate there. The community is then flooded with sex offenders. The usual response is to create laws that will force sex offenders to move and regroup in another community. The action simply repeats on cities and counties. Many sex offenders then disappear, while others simply register as homeless and live where they choose.

My response to closing the loop holes listed above would be replacing residency restrictions with GPS monitoring. This would give police, victims and communities real information about the whereabouts of sex offenders day and night. GPS monitors would allow police to know the exact location of sex offenders at any time of the day or night. This would allow police to know where an offender’s real residence is and whether they are violating a no-loitering zone around schools or daycares. Best of all, when an offender cuts their webbing, the police will be alerted immediately and have a general location of the sex offender at the time of the incident and either arrest the person or send out a BOLO (Be On The Lookout). It would be much more efficient than waiting for the sex offender not to register.

Added benefits are that the equipment has the ability to notify victims, schools, daycares, etc., when a sex offender is within so many feet of their property. This would allow staff to be more vigilant in protecting the children in their care and to alert the police in the event of a problem. This knowledge will provide real security to the community instead of the security talk that is now offered.

Now the downside… The costs! These units are not cheap and they need to be maintained. Many will be damaged, lost or destroyed. Police will also need to have officers or staff monitor the locations of sex offenders and respond to alarms. However, these costs must be weighed against the cost of having another sexually abused child. This is a decision that community leaders and legislators must make.

If a community decides to opt for GPS monitoring, I would recommend that the community drop all residency restrictions and adopt an information campaign informing residents of who the sex offenders are in their community and where they live. . Knowledge is the best defense. Residents should also know what type of sexual offense the person was arrested, not charged. There can be a big difference between what a person is arrested for and what they are charged with. This arrest information will let residents know what kind of sex offender they have in their neighborhood (remember, the sex offender in your neighborhood might be a 35-year-old man who, when he just turned 18, had a 15 year old girlfriend who was a week away from being 16 and is now married to the victim with two children during their 10 year marriage. If you knew this information about this sex offender you would treat him much differently than if you knew the offender had assaulted a 5-year-old boy).

The final added benefit would be that the offender could find housing and perhaps learn how to reintegrate into society. A man who has something to lose is much more controllable than a man who has nothing. These residency laws continue to put these offenders in positions where they have nothing, resulting in many of them re-offending. The worst is when an offender decides he was better off in prison and decides to have a little fun before coming in. Certainly a situation that we do not want.

Lawmakers must decide whether to pretend to defend public safety against sex offenders or give their citizens and police the tools to actually police this population. Knowledge is the key to this not ignorance and fear. Knowing what you know now, would you rather be told where they can’t live or who they are and where they are? What would make you feel safer?

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