City Council to Get Initial Plan on Local Sex Offender Law
Mayor Bettencourt will be sending an initial form of the local law he is proposing to place restrictions on sex offenders to the City Council on Tuesday.
Mayor Ted Bettencourt says he will be bringing a preliminary form of a new ordinance to the City Council Tuesday night to put some restrictions on where the most serious of sex offenders can live and go in Peabody.
Last month we reported that the city would be exploring such an ordinance after it came to Bettencourt's attention that there are currently no restrictions in place within the city.
Peabody is not alone in that regard, however; most cities and towns in Massachusetts and across the country do not have local laws prohibiting the activities of convicted Level 3 sex offenders.
There are only about 20 communities in the Bay State that have enacted "sex offender-free zones" or "child safety zones." Massachusetts has not joined about two dozen states that have adopted statewide laws since 1996, thereby leaving that work to local officials.
Placing restrictions on the activities of convicted offenders are typically dealt with in court by a judge.
There are currently 12 registered Level 3 offenders in Peabody, according to the Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry Board.
Bettencourt says his proposed ordinance still needs some tweaks and so a final draft won't be sent to the council until in reconvenes in August. He hopes to have a local law in place shortly thereafter.
He said the city will look to both restrict where Level 3 sex offenders can live in Peabody and also their proximity to certain public or recreational facilities where children congregate, such as schools or parks.
He said his greatest concern is simply to protect the city's children.
He said the city's legal team and Police Chief Robert Champagne, who helped draft the proposal, reviewed what other communities have done but still ended with a plan specific to Peabody.
The proposed language is also being reviewed by the Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett's office, but Bettencourt said, he has not received an opinion from the DA's office on the merits of the law.
Level 2 and Level 3 offenders are only required to register with the police and those individuals' names, addresses and pictures are then made available to the public. Any restrictive conditions placed upon them are imposed under terms of probation or by the parole board.
Champagne, in a previous interview, commended Bettencourt for being proactive on the issue and said he brought some creative ideas to the table.
He said the local law needs to strike a balance between promoting public safety while not infringing on the rights of offenders who have served their time. He said he would ideally prefer to have an overreaching state law instead.
Champagne noted that sex offender registration laws are still regularly undergoing legislative revisions -- the names and addresses of the most serious offenders was not made available to the public until 1996 -- and that judges these days consequently are very sensitive to the aforementioned balance when it comes to sentencing.
"Judges are very cognizant of putting restrictions on them…but when someone’s a free man, they get to roam the streets as you and I,” Champagne said.
Bettencourt does anticipate any local law will be challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union. The Massachusetts chapter has appealed in many instances thus far on constitutional grounds, arguing the local laws infringe on individual rights.
"I certainly understand those arguments," Bettencourt said. "But my greater concern is with the health and safety of children."
Champagne, who pointed to the challenge to Lynn's recent local law, said an argument has always been, "Is the punishment ever over? At some point they can't find a place to live, to work...and end up becoming a ward of the state."
In Lynn's case, the argument is that "exclusion zones" cover most of the geographic area of the city and nearly all its available housing.
That being said, and given the circumstances, Champagne thinks a local ordinance can help.
"I anticipate the ACLU will be closely watching it and once the council adopts [the ordinance], there will be some legal challenge," Bettencourt said.
That's not discouraging him, however, from pursuing the issue.
Bettencourt said the new law, again, is being crafted with the best interests of Peabody's residents in mind.
"If they [the ACLU] challenge it, they challenge it," he said.
No further details have been made public yet on the city's plan.
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