January 31, 2007
Supe Gets Tough With Sex Offenders
Southampton Town Supervisor Skip Heaney has a message for sex offenders: Keep away from our kids!
At his state of the town address last Friday, Heaney unveiled a groundbreaking new plan geared toward keeping children safe from sexual predators in the shape of a registered sex offender housing restriction map.
"I find particularly vile people who commit crimes against children," he said.
According to the supervisor, increased housing restrictions in areas located west of Southampton might spark a surge of sex offenders placed by the Department of Social Services in less restrictive areas. Taking a proactive stance, Heaney said the town should respond by developing a GIS mapping system, indicating areas within a 1000 foot radius of addresses and locations where children typically congregate, such as schools, parks, beaches, playgrounds, day care and community centers and movie theaters.
The Southampton police department juvenile aid bureau along with the town attorney's investigations unit will maintain a database including names and addresses of all registered Level 2 and 3 sex offenders living in Southampton; that information will be posted on the map with a symbol, which residents can click to obtain further information about the offender.
And, taking the initiative one step further, Heaney said that in most instances, when a registered sex offender is found to reside within one or more of the circles radiating from kid-friendly sites, the police department will compel the individual to move. The town board would enact local legislation that would prohibit sex offenders from living within a certain radius of areas where children congregate; paroled sex offenders must comply with conditions of their release and abide by local laws.
"There is one qualifier," Heaney explained. "If someone owns their own home, you can't force them to sell their home. This is about rentals."
Heaney began his crusade a few months ago when he went online one Sunday to research the issue, reading the plethora of published articles about recent initiatives, including a bill passed by Suffolk County legislators to prohibit Level 2 and 3 sex offenders from loitering within 100 feet of playgrounds, pools, arcades, youth centers and day care centers, as well as a law passed last year forbidding sex offenders to live within a quarter mile of schools and playgrounds.
The legislature also enacted a charter amendment geared toward establishing a countywide police for the protection of sex offenders.
Also in Suffolk County, legislators have worked to increase restrictions on offenders and their landlords, unanimously passing two bills requiring the Suffolk probation department to notify victims when a registered sex offender violates probation, and prohibiting county departments and contractors from placing more than one offender in a home.
In addition, Legislator Kate Browning introduced legislation to prevent more than one registered sex offender from living at the same residence; a measure aimed at tackling sex offender "clustering."
Another countywide initiative that began last summer was a program that used global positioning system technology to monitor chronic sex offenders.
On the East End, however, Heaney is breaking new ground. Although the Huntington town council last week proposed regulations that would ban Level 2 and 3 offenders from owning or living in accessory apartments, as well as a computer-generated map to track the residency of sex offenders, Heaney's is the first such initiative pioneered on the East End.
"I feel very strongly that we need to get this in place," said Heaney. "We can't be asleep." And, he added, it's not just Southampton, but other East End towns such as East Hampton and Riverhead, that need to be vigilant.
"The pressures to relocate these people to the east is just too great."
Heaney hopes the program can benefit other area communities. "If we create a model that other towns can adapt to fit their own needs, then it will be a good thing for the region."
In addition to a number of registered sex offenders living in Southampton, said Heaney, the Suffolk County prison in Riverside currently holds more than 70 Level 2 and 3 sex offenders, many of whom may be released and subsequently relocated into less affluent communities such as Flanders and Riverside. "They're walking right out of jail into our neighborhoods," said Heaney.
Heaney heard of one incident in Southampton when a sex offender released from jail was almost placed in a residence right next door to his victim. "That happened because there was no system to track the offender," he said. Fortunately, the mistake was caught by a member of the police department before the sex offender moved into the apartment.
But Heaney, in his research, became determined to prevent such disasters in the future. And he wants to heighten the awareness of town residents: One bonus to Heaney's new map? It'll be user-friendly, so that anyone seeking information will find it effortlessly. "I want this thing to be like Baby Einstein," he said. "I want it to be easy."
The project, which will be done in-house, will not require hiring any outside consultants.
The goal, said Heaney, who has young grandchildren, is to keep the town's children protected. "I'm putting walk to my talk," he said.