County increases sex offender boundary to 2500 feet
Written by Joel Addington Thursday, 18 June 2009
About four months ago convicted sex offender Allen Bennett was set to be released from prison. This troubled County Commissioner Michael Crews because Mr. Bennett’s female victim, still under 12 years old, lives across the street from the man’s former home in Sanderson. “He was going to come back and live at his home,” said Mr. Crews. “She’s going to be waiting for the bus while he’s on the porch in the morning drinking coffee.” Mr. Crews feared that facing her molester, day after day, would re-victimize the girl. He hoped to find a way to stop that from happening.
“I’ve always been real sensitive toward victims that are minors or children, especially with sexual molestation,” said Mr. Crews, the father of two daughters and one son. “I don’t think the laws are restrictive enough.”
What evolved over the next few months was the county’s first sexual offender ordinance, which the Baker County Commission adopted June 2 (2009). It prohibits sexual offenders from living within 2500 feet of schools, parks, playgrounds or other places where children regularly congregate. Florida statutes bar sex offenders from residing within 1000 feet of such places. The 56 registered sexual offenders now residing in Baker County will not be subject to the tighter restriction, nor can they be penalized if a day care center or school opens up within 2500 feet of their home. Rather, the ordinance will impact sexual offenders who come to Baker County in the future or those who change their place of residence.
Sex offenders are required by state law to report to the sheriff’s department annually with their permanent address, which local law enforcement is tasked with verifying quarterly to ensure they comply with residential restrictions. If they do not, they can be arrested or have charges filed against them with the state attorney’s office. “We just finished that up,” said Maj. Gerald Gonzalez, the department’s operations chief, regarding the quarterly address checks. Violation of the 2500-foot prohibition is a misdemeanor that carries a penalty of 60 days in jail and/or a $500 fine, but for offenders on probation after release from incarceration, a violation could mean additional prison time. “That’s where I think it’s most effective,” Mr. Crews said of the new law.
He’s a former sheriff’s deputy and head of security at Northeast Florida State Hospital, which houses 14 local sex offenders, four of whom have been deemed sexual predators. That designation is reserved for repeat sex offenders, those that used violence or whose victims were children. Mr. Crews says he is disappointed, however, that the new law isn’t more restrictive. “The ordinance didn’t accomplish the main thing I wanted — that once an offender is released, they cannot move or live within a certain distance of their victim,” he said. The sexual offender that prompted the ordinance now lives in Jacksonville as a requirement of his probation, but the man could eventually return to his family’s home in Sanderson. “[Probation] is preventing it now, but he can come back,” said Mr. Crews.
He said that when researching how restrictive the ordinance could be, the county’s attorney Terry Brown discovered the Supreme Court overturned a law prohibiting sexual offenders from residing within 1000 or so feet of bus stops. Baker County’s ordinance is as restrictive as possible without conflicting with legal precedent, said Mr. Crews. The new law also includes a provision to penalize property owners who knowingly rent residences to sexual offenders in violation of the 2500-foot restriction, which Maj. Gonzalez said will be difficult to enforce. “There’s no requirement for the offenders to report [their status] to their landlord ... It’s one of those deals you can’t prove,” he said. “That’s going to be an issue — enforcing the penalties against landlords.”
Anyone interested in searching for sexual offenders in their neighborhood can go to FDLE Florida Sexual Offenders and Predators
Last Updated ( Thursday, 10 December 2009 )
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