East End towns haven’t enacted Suffolk’s touted sex offender program

02/28/2015 8:00 AM |
County Executive Steve Bellone (center) touts the benefits of the county's new sex offender monitoring efforts in Hauppauge Friday. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

County Executive Steve Bellone (center) touts the benefits of the county’s new sex offender monitoring efforts in Hauppauge Friday. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

A program designed to monitor and reduce recidivism among convicted sex offenders has been very successful in the Suffolk County Police Department’s jurisdiction, officials said Friday.

The program, part of the county’s Community Protection Act, uses retired police officers who work for the nonprofit Parents for Megan’s Law to make in-person visits to sex offenders to ensure that they’re in compliance with residency registration laws and other requirements.

To date, however, none of the five East End town police departments is using that portion of the program, which has been offered to them at no cost, said Laura Ahearn, director of the nonprofit, which works to prevent sex offenses and aid victims of sex crimes.

The only East End police department on board with that portion of the program thus far is in Quogue Village, she said.

The Community Protection Act, enacted in May 2013, uses drop-ins and other monitoring methods to keep sex offenders’ photos and addresses current. The law also provides support services for crime victims and runs education programs that show children and adults how to protect themselves from sex crimes.

“Since the implementation of the Community Protection Act, no registered sex offender has been re-arrested for a sex crime committed against a Suffolk County resident,” County Executive Steve Bellone said at a press conference Friday. “That is an extraordinary achievement, considering that in the four years prior to [its adoption], there were 12 arrests in Suffolk County of registered sex offenders for re-offending within the county.

“Our police department has made 44 arrests for various failures to comply with the registry since the program launched. Nearly 100 percent of registrants were brought into compliance for failure to register their home addresses,” Mr. Bellone said.

But those numbers apply only to the jurisdiction of the county police and not to the East End towns, which have their own police departments.

Ms. Ahearn said after the press conference that in March 2013, Suffolk County police met with East End police chiefs to offer the in-person verification services through Parents For Meghan’s Law.

“All components of the Community Protection Act are available to all of Suffolk County” at no charge, she said.

Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley said that in such a small town, managing the number of offenders isn’t much of a problem for police.

“The needs and size of the police district that SCPD polices is a lot different than ours,” Chief Flatley said. “We usually average between 10 to 15 offenders that we monitor, which is very manageable, where I can imagine Suffolk’s would easily be in the hundreds. Although I currently feel that we manage these offenders very well, I, along with the chiefs of the other East End departments, are collectively looking at Ms. Ahearn’s proposal as she submitted to our group.”

Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller said Riverhead is taking the county and Ms. Ahearn up on their offer.

“We’re working on it,” he said. “We’re definitely in favor it. We just have to work out the details. It’s a quasi-contract that would be an agreement between the town and Parents for Megan’s Law.”

Ms. Ahearn said the East End towns are implementing other components of the Community Protection Act, such as the education and victim support services.

But, she says, the in-person visits are a very important component in the success of the program, because they generate a lot of leads for police on sex offender registration compliance.

The county’s press conference on the success its feel it is having with the Community Protection Act comes on the heels of a Feb. 17 state Court of Appeals ruling that overturned sex offender residency restrictions in Nassau County, and will likely render all such restrictions other than the state’s — including Suffolk’s — unenforceable.

The Court of Appeals, the state’s top court, ruled in the case of People vs. John Diack, a Nassau sex offender, that only the state can establish residency restrictions for sex offenders.

The state had already imposed restrictions several years ago, barring Level 3 sex offenders, considered high risk, from living within 1,000 feet of a school. Since then, counties, towns and villages throughout the state have passed their own residency restrictions, barring sex offenders from all sorts of other places where children might congregate, such as parks, churches or day care centers.

Ms. Ahearn said the local laws got out of control, resulting in the clustering of sex offenders in areas without restrictions and the frequent migration of sex offenders from one location to another.

Mr. Bellone said the Court of Appeals ruling will not impact the work the county is doing with the Community Protection Act.

Since the Court of Appeals ruling, the state Senate has approved a bill that would allow towns, counties and villages to enact their own sex offender registry requirements. That bill has yet to be approved by the state Assembly.

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