So, do you really think that someone who is deemed dangerous by a review board, who has a history of sexual abuse, would obey ANY laws? Yes, bylaws are better, they open up more places for low risk offenders, but the truly dangerous are not going to obey the laws anyway.
By Emily Wilcox
Is loitering bylaw a better bet?
PLYMOUTH - “It’s not where they live, it’s where they go, then?” Advisory and Finance Committee Chairman William Driscoll asked.
Robert Baker, retired director of operations at the Mass. Sex Offender Registry, nodded yes, capping off more than an hour of discussion on a proposal to adopt a local bylaw that would prohibit sex offenders from living within half a mile (or 2,500 feet) of any school, daycare center, elderly housing complex, park or recreation facility.
Plymouth is home to 10 Level 3 sex offenders, two of whom are homeless.
Selectmen voted unanimously to have this town bylaw drafted after learning Plymouth has no law on the books restricting the residency of Level 3 sex offenders. Town Meeting will consider the proposal Oct. 26.
But Baker and his wife, Debra, a licensed mental health counselor who works to rehabilitate sex offenders, offered a different perspective on the issue and shared their knowledge and experience with the Advisory and Finance Committee Wednesday night.
The Bakers say adopting a no-loitering bylaw to restrict where sex offenders go could be effective, but restricting where they live to such a severe extent will result in more homeless offenders who police won’t be able to track.
Town officials have expressed concern that the half-mile restriction would be so severe The Pinehills would be one of the few areas left in town where sex offenders could live. Selectman Butch Machado countered that the restriction would also allow Level 3 sex offenders to live in his and Selectman Bill Hallisey’s neighborhoods. And it’s unlikely a Level 3 sex offender would be able to afford to live in The Pinehills, he added.
According to Machado, district attorneys across the state contend that towns like Plymouth that don’t adopt a bylaw become a dumping ground for Level 3 sex offenders.
But Police Chief Michael Botieri and the Bakers say they’re concerned the sweeping residency restriction selectmen propose simply won’t work. Botieri noted that the majority of sex offender crimes and abductions do not take place in the sex offender’s home. Police want sex offenders to have addresses, so officers can keep an eye on these felons, he added.
Plymouth’s two homeless Level 3 sex offenders are required to register with police every 45 days, which they do, Botieri said.
While the Sex Offender Registry Board recommends police visit or contact Level 3 sex offenders twice a year, Botieri said his officers pay a visit to these felons every three months. His plan, he said, is to step up this effort. Botieri plans to assign an officer to each of the town’s Level 3 sex offenders andeach officer will be responsible to visit their assigned offender once a month.
While Botieri said he’s concerned a residency restriction wouldn’t increase safety, he said he would be interested in exploring the possibility of a loitering bylaw.
There is no law prohibiting a Level 3 sex offender from sitting on a park bench, visiting a playground or loitering in a park or at a senior complex. If Plymouth is sincerely concerned about increasing the safety of its citizens, the town ought to consider a no-loitering bylaw instead of the residency restriction, the Bakers said. Restricting where these offenders can go is the key, they said, to increasing safety. As it stands, police can only notify schools and organizations that a Level 3 sex offender has been frequenting the area; police can’t arrest the offender unless a probation violation has occurred.
The Advisory and Finance Committee voted unanimously not to recommend Town Meeting approve the proposed residency restriction for Level 3 sex offenders.
At the behest of committee member Linda Benezra, the committee also voted to reduce the proposed residency restriction from 2,500 feet to 1,500 feet, in the event Town Meeting overrules the committee’s position against the proposal. For the sake of clarity, the committee also voted not to recommend the 1,500-foot residency restriction.
"The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of a civilization. We must have a desire to rehabilitate into the world of industry, all those who have paid their dues in the hard coinage of punishment." - Winston Churchill (United States Constitution)