After years of public outcry over two homeless sex offender trailers parked in Riverside and Westhampton, the Suffolk County Legislature voted unanimously on Thursday to green light County Executive Steve Bellone's new sex offender plan.
"The trailers will close within a matter of months," Legislator Jay Schneiderman said, after the vote, which was 17-0.
Bellone's new plan for sex offenders, which was unveiled Thursday by law enforcement and Parents for Megan’s Law at the Suffolk County Legislature’s public safety committee meeting in Hauppauge, calls for abolishing the current clustering of homeless sex offenders in one community.
Instead, the trailers will close and homeless sex offenders will be relocated to other county shelters -- with only one registered sex offender per facility.
Law enforcement will be made aware of each individual and where they are living, with an eye toward enhanced monitoring and other community safeguards.
According to Schneiderman, Parents for Megan’s Law will strengthen and support the Suffolk County Police Department’s program that verifies the addresses of all registered sex offenders within the county.
Currently, there are 1,016 registered sex offenders residing in Suffolk County; address verification is one component of Bellone's eight-point plan to protect the community.
In addition, the plan includes using email, social media and other technology to better alert and notify the community.
"The plan promises to provide the toughest sex offender monitoring and enforcement program in the nation," Schneiderman said.
Added new Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski, “I think it's a well-put-out plan. To spend millions every year on four percent of the county sex offenders - it's just wrong."
The new plan, Krupski said, "addresses the burden on taxpayers and addresses monitering sex offenders to protect the whole county. I would hope the Legislature is leaning toward passing the plan because it does address the problem on so many levels."
The trailers have sparked a public outcry for years, with elected officials and residents railing against the inequity of siting both trailers -- and all of Suffolk County's homeless sex offenders -- on the East End.
"Concentrating all the homeless sex offenders in any one area is never a good thing," said Riverhead Councilman Jim Wooten, who attended a community meeting on the issue last Wednesday with other elected officials. "By dispersing them in an equitable manner throughout the county it would be less of a burden on the East End, especially our Main Street area, which has parks and schools all within walking distance. It's just not fair to burden our community with the lion's share."
Bellone spoke with Schneiderman last Wednesday and explained the focus of the plan would be to ensure that sex offenders would not be clustered in any one neighborhood; instead, they would be spread across Suffolk County.
A mini-shelter program which had previously been passed by the legislature is not one Bellone feels is the best approach, Schneiderman said, since the shelters would still be placed in communities, with a clustering of six sex offenders in each facility.
Schneiderman said the Parents for Megan's Law would act as a contract agency to ensure that all 1000 sex offenders in Suffolk County were living where they should be and community safeguards were in place.
Not everyone, however, is pleased with Bellone's new plan. Shana Rowan, executive director of USA FAIR, Inc., a national advocacy organization formed by the family members of people required to register with the sex offender registry, has urged Senator Charles Schumer and Congressman Tim Bishop to assist in its efforts to get Parents for Megan’s Law Executive Director Laura Ahearn to "take down misleading statistics from their website that reinforces the myth of high sex offender recidivism."
USA FAIR, Rowan said, "has made fighting the myth of high sex offender recidivism its number one priority for 2013 becasue so many of the laws impacting law abiding former sex offenders are based on the falsehood that former offenders are likely to commit a new sex crime. According to the U.S. Justice Department and numerous other agencies and institutions that have researched recidivism, sexual offenders have one of the lowest recidivism rates in the criminal justice system."