UPDATE: Tuesday, 8 p.m.
The Suffolk County Legislature unanimously approved a bill Tuesday evening that supporters say will create the strongest sex offender monitoring program in the nation and will close the two trailers housing homeless sex offenders in Southampton Town.
Under the new law, dubbed the Community Protection Act, the homeless sex offenders will instead be placed at one of the county’s existing shelters at the discretion of the Suffolk County Department of Social Services commissioner, with no more than one offender per facility and offenders kept separate from families.
The Suffolk County Police Department, which developed the proposal at the direction of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, will work closely with Parents for Megan’s Law, a nonprofit dedicated to the prevention of sexual abuse, to monitor and spread information about the county’s roughly 1,000 registered sex offenders.
Southampton Town residents urged the legislators to support the bill during a public hearing Tuesday afternoon. They have long expressed their exasperation with the placement of the trailers, a burden they said they have had to shoulder for far too long.
“It’s inappropriate, it’s unjust to concentrate them-in a minority area I might add,” said Vince Taldone, vice president of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association. “It’s wrong and it needs to be stopped.”
Amol Sinha, president of the Suffolk County chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union, also attended the hearing to speak out against the bill for its “misinformation about sexual assault and the context in which such crimes take place.” He also criticized Mr. Bellone for introducing the bill with a certificate of necessity, which allowed it to bypass committees and be put up for an immediate vote.
“The use of a Certificate of Necessity to hastily overhaul the county’s sex offender management plan sacrifices democracy for expedience, and prevents a meaningful debate on the law’s merits,” he said.
County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, who represents the South Fork, said the new program will prohibit sex offenders from being clustered in any one community, while increasing public safety.
“I was not expecting everybody to support this—I was expecting several people to oppose it,” he said. “It’s the first time in what has been a very contentious issue where we have had universal support.”
It could be a few more months before the trailers are actually removed from Southampton, he added.
As part of the proposed program, Suffolk County would sign a contract with Parents For Megan’s Law at a maximum cost of $900,000 each year for up to three years. The organization would then work to establish a system to verify that registered sex offenders are living where they say that they are, as well as a monitoring system and a way for members of the community to report when sex offenders violate the law. Their efforts would also include a new community alert system, crime victim services, community outreach and prevention education services.
The Suffolk County Police Department would be responsible for strengthening address verification efforts and for ensuring that patrol officers receive accurate information, including photos, addresses, driver registration and intelligence reports, for each registered sex offender.
Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said she too was surprised at the unanimous vote, but said it was a positive sign that the legislators saw it as a regional issue.
“It’s a positive sign for local government in that these are the issues that shouldn’t be political,” she said. “I’m hoping that this is the spirit in which we can move together on a lot of things that need to be dealt with regionally. I’m very encouraged by that.”
In an abrupt change of course, Suffolk County officials announced on Thursday that after closing a pair of trailers in Southampton Town they will house all of their homeless sex offenders in existing homeless shelters across the county.
The new plan was unveiled in Hauppauge by Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke and Laura Ahearn, the executive director of Parents for Megan’s Law, whose organization will be contracted to help in its implementation and the tracking of the homeless offenders.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who promised as part of his election campaign two years ago to close the trailers in Westhampton and Riverside that have housed all of the county’s homeless sex offenders since 2006, did not attend the meeting of the Suffolk County Legislature Public Safety Committee. Previously, the county had been working on a different plan that called for the closing the trailers and housing the homeless sexual offenders in six new shelters that would be equally spread out across Suffolk, with no more than six offenders residing in one place at one time.