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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, FL and the cities within that county’s limits. Each state, city and community will have developed different laws and therefore have different experiences with the application of those laws. So please don’t take my finding as set in stone. I ask the reader to take my experiences and combine them with your own. Perhaps by doing this and forming a discussion, a uniform solution to this problem can be found.

The main problem with Miami-Dade sex offenders is that they basically fall into two categories: 1. The person is on parole, meets with a parole officer who verifies their whereabouts and compliance with the conditions of their release conditional. 2. Subject has completed his time and must report her address four times a year to the Sheriff’s Office (Miami-Dade County has a Police Department). The police will check the addresses from time to time and make sure they comply with the laws and ordinances.

The problem encountered with the second category is that the sex offender may give a false address that proves to be in compliance with the law or listed as homeless which allows them to live anywhere. There is really no way for the police to prove that a person does not live at an address or is not truly homeless. A sex offender could have a house right across the street from a school or playground, be listed as homeless, and just live the life of it. Being in the house does not mean that you live there. The police would be forced to have the officers watch my address and they proved that he stayed at the address for a time that the law states that he is a resident of the address. He also remembers that you can own a house and not live in it. Even sex offenders on parole with curfews will sleep at another place they have given as their address and then return home once the curfew ends (in Florida, most sex offender curfews are from 10:00 pm to 6:00 am, so they are free to move just when their children leave for school).

The other problem with residency restrictions is a phenomenon called clustering. Certain communities will be far enough from schools and parks to be shown as a legal place for sex offenders to live. All the sex offenders start to move there, or accumulate there. The community is then flooded with sex offenders. The usual response is to create laws that make sex offenders relocate and meet in another community. The action is simply repeated in cities and counties. Many sex offenders just disappear, while others simply list themselves as homeless and live wherever they want.

My answer to closing the loop holes listed above would be to replace residency restrictions with GPS monitoring. This would give police, victims and communities real information about the whereabouts of sex offenders during the day and at night. GPS monitors would allow police to know the exact location of sex offenders at all times of the day or night. It would allow police to know where a criminal’s true residence is and if he is violating no-loitering zones around schools or day care centers. Best of all, when an offender cuts their leash, the police will be alerted immediately and have a general location of the sex offender when the incident occurred and either arrest the person or send out a BOLO (Be on the lookout). This would be much more effective than waiting for the sex offender to not register.

Additional benefits are that the kit has the ability to notify victims, schools, day care centers, etc., when a sex offender is within that 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 if there is a problem. This knowledge will bring real security to the community instead of the lip service that is now offered.

Now the downside… It costs! These units are not cheap and need to be fixed. Many will be damaged, lost or destroyed. The police should also have officers or personnel to monitor sex offender locations and respond to alarms. However, these costs must be weighed against the cost of having another abused child. This is a decision for community leaders and legislators to make.

If a community decides to go for GPS monitoring, I would recommend that the community remove all residency restrictions and adopt an information campaign that informs residents who the sex offenders are in their community and where they live. Knowledge is the best defense. Residents should also know what type of sex offense the person was arrested for, not charged with. There can be a big difference between why a person is arrested and what charges are brought against them. This arrest information will let residents know what type of sex offender they have in their neighborhood (remember, the sex offender in your neighborhood may be a 35-year-old man who when he just turned 18 had a 15-year-old girlfriend who was a one week shy of his 16th birthday and is now married to the victim and has two children during their 10-year marriage.If you knew this information about this sex offender, you would treat him very differently than if you knew that the offender had sexually abused a 5 year old boy).

The last added benefit would be that the offender could find a place to live and perhaps learn to fit back into society. A man with something to lose is much more controllable than a man with nothing. These residency laws continue to put these offenders in positions of having nothing, causing many of them to reoffend. Worse still is when a criminal decides that he was better off in prison and decides have some fun before going back in. Definitely a situation we don’t want.

Lawmakers must decide whether to pay lip service to public safety against sex offenders or actually give their citizens and police the necessary tools to monitor 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 know who and where they are? Which would make you feel more secure?


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