November 8, 2012

Gardiner councilors decline new sex offender restrictions

City councilors tell petitioning residents any new restrictions must come from the Legislature

By Paul Koenig pkoenig@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

GARDINER -- City councilors say they are not interested in moving forward with new restrictions on where some sex offenders can live, despite some residents' pleas it would make their neighborhood safer.

Councilors told the residents making a case for an ordinance at a meeting Wednesday that the state Legislature is responsible for sex offender residency restrictions, not the city.

The councilors and Police Chief James Toman seemed to agree that, although the issue is complicated, residency restrictions likely wouldn't give the security the residents sought and that educating children about the dangers of sexual predators is more useful.

City Manager Scott Morelli said Thursday that the next step is for residents to talk to their legislators about other ways of protecting against sex offenders.

"If we zone-out sex offenders from 50 percent of Gardiner, there is going to be a preponderance of sex offenders in the other areas," said Morelli.

Mayor Andrew MacLean told Morelli and Toman to research other communities and other types of possible restrictions, like excluding some sex offenders from going to public parks.

The councilor who put forward the proposal for an ordinance, Scott Williams, suggested restricting sex offenders with crimes against minors under 14 years of age from living with 750 feet of schools and licensed day care centers -- an ordinance modeled after one in the town of Oakland.

According to Maine law, communities can only restrict sex offenders with crimes against minors under 14 years of age from living up to 750 feet from schools and municipal property where children are the primary users; it doesn't say anything about allowing restrictions from day care centers.

Williams said he raised the issue because of complaints he received by residents around Lincoln Avenue after a registered sex offender moved nearby in September.

Members of the public attending in support of an ordinance at Wednesday's council meeting refused to identify themselves. Two women who spoke at the meeting said an ordinance would create a greater awareness of sex offenders, especially among parents who aren't as conscious of the dangers. One said it would help protect children playing without parent supervision at the Gardiner Common.

"The ordinance would restrict where they live, not where they go," responded Toman.

Sexual predators usually choose victims based on relational closeness, not geographic proximity, according to Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, who co-sponsored the bill for Maine's law.

"We have learned around the country and over the years that restricting where people can live tends to have one town move them into another town and hide people," he said in an earlier interview. "Having them under the eye of law enforcement and under the eye of the public is a good thing."

Toman said he's more worried about sex offenders the police department doesn't know about than ones registered with the state. He encouraged residents to call the department immediately if they see suspicious activity, not hours or days afterward.

The police department alerts residents when a sex offender moves nearby by handing out fliers, and Toman said police may also begin using the Gardiner Police Department Facebook page to let people know when sex offenders move to the city.

Paul Koenig -- 621-5663
pkoenig@mainetoday.com

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