County Legislature approves sex offender plan

02/05/2013 6:04 PM |

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The inside of the trailer for homeless sex offenders place outside the Suffolk County Jail in Riverside.

The Suffolk County Legislature unanimously approved a law Tuesday evening that will redistribute the 38 homeless sex offenders currently housed in construction trailers in Riverside and Westhampton to shelters across the entire county.

The new plan will spread the sex offenders out, one per shelter, at county-run facilities, where they will be monitored more closely by county police.

Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke and Parents for Megan’s Law director Laura Ahearn, who crafted the plan with County Executive Steve Bellone, first pitched it to the Legislature’s public safety Committee in Hauppauge last Thursday morning.

Ms. Ahearn was back before the entire Legislature Tuesday, urging members to approve the plan.

“For seven years we have talked about this,” she said. “This community protection plan is the solution. It’s not perfect and you can poke holes in it, but it’s the best in the nation.”

Homeless sex offenders had been housed at the same two trailers since 2007, even though the original plan was for them to rotate throughout the county. The Riverside trailer was located next to the Suffolk County Jail.

Under the new plan, sex offenders will no longer reside at the trailers and officials promised they will not be shipped to shelters that serve families.

Chief Burke also said last week that the department’s intelligence database will be updated to include information on the activities of the more than 1,000 sex offenders throughout the county, which can be cross-referenced and easily searched by officers in the field.

Officers will check in with the homeless sex offenders each night to ensure that they are staying where they are assigned, he said.

“They’re gonna know that we know where they are,” he said at the committee meeting.

Chief Burke said the department expects costs of the new program to be significantly less than the $4 million the county is currently spending to house the sex offenders on the East End, since the department will be utilizing police personnel who are already in the field.

Ms. Ahearn also unveiled her group’s new eight-point plan, which includes hiring two teams of retired police officers to verify addresses of [non-homeless] sex offenders and verify the work addresses of Level 3 sex offenders. Offenders at lower levels are not required to report their work addresses to police.

She said 60 percent of Level 3 offenders don’t currently report their work addresses, even though they are required to by law.

Enforceability in the five East End towns, which all have their own police departments, would depend on local police chiefs signing on to the county’s plan, said Chief Burke. He said the county’s resources and intelligence will be made available to any other police department that signs on to the plan.

Prior to Tuesday’s vote, Flanders Riverside Northampton Civic Association president Brad Bender said the time had come to rid the East End of the burden of housing all the county’s sex offenders.

“You have an opportunity to take responsibility,” he said, addressing the entire Legislature. “It is easy to do nothing, but these are your residents. Like a leper colony, you’ve chosen to ship them to us.”

Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said her only major concern with the plan, which she supported, is a loophole that could allow the county to revert back to the trailer plan.

“They should be decommissioned to make sure there is never a way that we will fall back on this again,” she said.

Legislator John Kennedy (R-Smithtown), who said legislators only received the plan at 12:30 p.m.Tuesday, was among a small group of legislators to voice concern with how quickly the bill was brought to a vote. But once role was called, the faction all voted yes.

“I don’t like the way this was handled, but I am going to support this so it passes unanimously,” he said.

gparpan@timesreview.com

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