TAMPA WANTS TO BAN SEX OFFENDERS by Roxanne Escobales

01/18/07
WMNF Drive-Time News Thursday | Listen to this entire show:

Tampa City Council discussed at length a proposed ordinance that would further restrict where registered sex offenders can live. Many council members would like to see them banned from the city. But as WMNF’s Roxanne Escobales reports, experts say that would create more problems than it would solve.

 

Before launching into his presentation for the city council, Tampa city attorney David Smith warned about the nature of his topic – sex offenders and restricting where they live.

 

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Indeed, when a 22-year-old sex offender moved into a New Tampa neighborhood, the residents felt so fearful, they suspended some of their daily activities.

 

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Concerned mother Lynn Chernin

 

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Chernin and her friend Heather Allred formed what Chernin’s husband calls the “Mommy Mafia” – they’ve been campaigning for tighter rules regulating where sexual offenders can live. And it was their efforts that brought the issue before the council last October.

 

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The council discussed effectively banning any sexual offenders from moving into the city by passing laws that would restrict them from living within 25-hundred feet of places where children congregate. That may include schools, parks and possibly school bus stops. Sexual offenders and predators already living within city limits would not be affected. Many members, like Frank Reddick, did not conceal their distaste for these criminals.

 

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Or take this exchange between council members Mary Alvarez and Linda Saul-Sena.

 

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Right now the proposed ordinance is being “workshopped”, which means the legal department is looking into any potential conflicts and different provisions. But if the council decides to include residential restrictions of 25-hundred feet as council member Sean Harrison proposed, or 35-hundred feet, as suggested by council member John Dingfelder, than offenders would be pushed outside city limits into county land. The Department of Corrections Gail Reddick told the council that would stress the agency’s probation services.

 

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It would also impact on the re-integration of offenders.

 

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Those who work with sexual offenders agree with the D-O-C’s Gail Reddick.

 

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Dr Jill Levenson of Lynn University in Boca Raton researches criminal justice policy designed to prevent sexual violence. She says to ordinances such as the one Tampa City Council is kicking around inadvertently create risk rather than minimizing it.

 

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City attorney David Smith did not bring any experts who work with sex offenders to speak to the council. But council member Linda Saul-Sena has heard of research supporting this, and she asked Smith to bring the council more information. One Tampa doctor says he already supplied the city council with his research on his own initiative. Dr Leo Cotter has worked with sex offenders since for over 20 years, and has published research on residential restrictions. He says strict rules on where offenders can live makes unsound – and unsafe – policy.

 

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And victims groups also say residential restrictions are not effective.

 

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Jennifer Dritt is the executive director of the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence. She says “stranger danger” is a myth.

 

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That’s also what Dr Cotter says.

 

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Dr Jill Levenson debunks the belief that living close to such places as schools will cause offenders to do it again.

 

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With city elections a couple of months away, it’s unlikely that any of the Tampa City Council members would say anything that could be viewed as advocating for sexual offenders. Dr Leo Cotter

 

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Yet all council members expressed their disgust towards sexual offenders. That could yet prove to be more reactionary than results-driven. But nothing has passed yet, and the discussions are ongoing.

 

Roxanne Escobales, WMNF News, Tampa City Hall.

   

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