Thursday, November 16, 2006

Critics say ban on sex offenders in parks too broad, unconstitutional

That such a law is political pandering is evident near the end of the article.

Some young lovers would be exempt from a proposed law in Warren aimed at banning anyone on Michigan's sex offender registry from entering a city park or recreation building.

Amid deep and heated differences, Warren City Council members voted 5-4 late Tuesday making the public properties off-limits to most people on the dubious state list. An 11th hour amendment from Melinda Moore, the councilwoman spearheading the measure, exempts anyone who was between 17 and 21 years of age whose "victim" was not more than five years younger.

Those backing the proposed ordinance say it's simply about protecting children and women from predators.

"If we can keep one person, keep them away from a park and deter them from a child, it's worth it to me," said Moore, a mother of two teenagers.

Critics said that idea may be well-intentioned, but consider it overly broad, unenforceable and pandering to voters.

"I think we're shooting mosquitoes with a shotgun," said Councilwoman Kathy Vogt, an attorney who practices family law. "I don't think it is constitutional."

Joining Moore in approving the first of two "readings" of the proposed law were Mike Chupa, Donna Kaczor Caumartin, Keith Sadowski and council President James Fouts. Fouts had called Moore's legislation politically motivated and unsuccessfully suggested the ban be extended to prohibit drug dealers from Warren's two dozen city parks and two recreation centers.

In addition to Vogt, council members Mary Kamp, Carolyn Kurkowski Moceri and Mike Wiecek voted against the ordinance.

Kamp argued parents do not need an ordinance to contact police about anyone seemingly lurking in a park, and that anyone on the sex offender registry is not easily identifiable.

"They don't walk around with scarlet letters," she said.

Officials pointed out that the sex offender list has inaccuracies and called upon state lawmakers to revise the registry by separating pedophiles from others such as "Romeo and Juliet" offenders who willingly engaged in sexual activity.

Some consider it unfair to continue to punish those who engaged in sex with an underage person -- anyone in Michigan must be at least 16 years old to legally consent to sex -- and are sentenced to the registry for the rest of their lives, to be unable to take their child to a city playground or watch their son or daughter play in a sporting event.

Michigan law prohibits anyone on the sex offender list from going on school property.

Warren City Attorney George Constance said he considers the city's proposed parks ban an extension of that state law.

"I think it's defendable," he said, adding that 10 states prohibit sex offenders from residing near a school or recreation area.

The American Civil Liberties Union is watching developments closely.

"We do see it as unconstitutional. Our biggest concern with it is it continues to punish people well after they've served their sentence," Shelli Weisberg, legislative director for the ACLU in Michigan, said Wednesday.

The state registry has more than 40,000 names. Weisberg said Warren officials would be unable to pinpoint which ones could be considered "predators." The greater fear, she suggested, might involve the over 8,000 absconders whose whereabouts are a mystery to law enforcement authorities.

Asked about Moore's amendment to exempt those who got on the list for acts committed between age 17 and 21, Weisberg said: "Who's to say within that age group you don't have a true predator?

"It's a false, feel-good kind of legislation that doesn't get to who is a true predator."

To avoid violating the state's Open Meetings Act, the only full exemption as proposed would apply to everyone on the offender registry if the person is attending a meeting of a public body at the city buildings.

The ordinance, which still must go through a second "reading" by the council to be enacted, also prohibits offenders from getting memberships at the Warren Community Center's fitness and aquatic center.

Parks and Recreation Director Henry Bowman said a notice to that effect may be posted on the building and the Owen Jax Recreation Center on Nine Mile Road. He doesn't anticipate ordering his staff to run names through the state registry Web site.

But they'll be alert for suspicious activity, he said.

"Our staff is trained to keep their eyes opened," the parks boss said.

"The last thing I'm looking to do here, and don't think that anyone is looking to do, is a witch hunt."

Warren Police Commissioner James Vohs called the ordinance a good one that could be applied in secondary fashion if an offender is suspected of wrongdoing at a park or recreation facility. He acknowledged that Michigan's third-most populated city is not experiencing recurring problems of sexual assaults by strangers on children.

"We have no plan for any kind of sweeps," the city's top police administrator said.

"If we can keep one person, keep them away from a park and deter them from a child, it's worth it to me," said Moore, a mother of two teenagers.

Well of course it's worth it to you. You aren't paying a thing. One could wonder if rapists and other criminals use the same rationale: "It's worth it to me."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You shouldnt type in yellow. Its hard to read.

5:27 PM  

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