My experience with sex offender residency laws are confined to Miami-Dade County, FL laws and the cities within the boundaries of that county. Every state, city, and community will have developed different laws and therefore have different experiences with the enforcement of those laws. So please do not take my finding as written in stone. I ask the reader to take my experiences and match them in with their own. Maybe by doing this and forming a discussion, a uniform solution to this problem may be found.
The main problem with Miami-Dade sex offenders is that the fall into basically two categories: 1. The person is on probation, meets with a probation officer who checks on his whereabouts and his compliance with conditions of his probation. 2. The subject has completed his time and must report his 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 ensure that they are in compliance with laws and ordinances.
The problem found with the second category is that the sex offender may give a false address that shows to be compliant with laws or list themselves as homeless allowing them to live anywhere. There is really no way for the police to prove that a person does not live at an address or that they are not really homeless. A sex offender could have a house directly across the street from a school or playground, list himself as homeless and just live out his life. Being at the house does not mean that he lives there. The police would be forced to have officers watch my address and proved that he stayed at the address for a time that the law states establishes that he is a resident of the address. Also remember that you can own a house and not live in it. Even sex offenders on probation with curfews will sleep at another location that they have given as their address and then return to their house once the curfew is over (in Florida most Sex Offender curfews are 10:00PM to 6:00AM, so they’re free to move about just when your kids are leaving for school).
The other problem with residency restrictions is a phenomenon called pooling. Certain communities will be far enough away from schools and parks and will show as a legal place for sex offenders to live. The all sex offenders start to move there, or pool there. The community then becomes inundated with sex offenders. The usual response is to create laws that will cause the sex offenders to move and pool in another community. The action simply repeats itself over cities and counties. Many sex offenders then just disappear while others just list themselves s homeless and live where ever that want.
My answer to close the loop holes listed above would be the replacement of residency restrictions with GPS Monitoring. This would give the police, victims, and communities real information as to the whereabouts of sex offenders during the day and night. GPS Monitors would allow the police to know the exact location of sex offenders at all times during the day or night. It would allow the police to know where an offender’s true residence is located and if he is violating an no loitering zones around schools or day cares. Best of all, when an offender cuts off his strap the police will be alerted immediately and have a general location of the sex offender when the incident occurred and arrest the person or send out a BOLO (Be On The Look Out). This would be much more effective than waiting for the sex offender to fail to register.
Added benefits are that the equipment has the ability to notify victims, schools, day cares, etc., when a sex offender is within so many feet of their property. This would allow staff to be more vigilant in the protection of the children under their care and to alert police if there is a problem. This knowledge will provide real safety to the community instead of the lip service of safety that is now being offered.
Now the down side… Costs! These units are not cheap and they must be serviced. Many will be damaged, lost, or destroyed. Police will also have to have officers or staff monitor the locations of sex offenders and answer alarms. However, these costs must be weighed against the cost of having another child molested. This is a decision that community leaders and law maker must make.
If a community decides to go with GPS Monitoring I would recommend that the community drop all residency restrictions and adopt an information campaign informing residents of who the sex offenders in their community are and where they live. Knowledge is the best defense. Residents should also know what kind of sex offense the person was arrested, not charged. There can be a big difference between what a person is arrested for and what they are charged. This arrest information will allow residents to know what kind 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 years old had a 15 year old girlfriend who was one week away from being 16 and is now married to the victim with two kids over their 10 year marriage. If you knew this information about this sex offender you would treat him much differently than if you knew the offender had molested a 5 year old boy).
The last added benefit would be that the offender would be able to find a place to live and maybe learn to fit back into society. A man with something to lose is much more controllable than a man with nothing. These residency laws keep placing these offenders in positions of having nothing causing many of then to offend again. Worst yet is when an offender decides that he was better off in prison and decides to have some fun before going back in. Definitely a situation that we do not want.
Law Makers need to decide if they are going to pay lip service to public safety against sex offenders or actually give their citizens and police to tools needed to actually 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 they are and where they are? Which would make you feel safer?