Bigger isn't necessarily better when it comes to distancing places where children congregate from the living quarters of a registered sex offender. Last week, the tiny hamlet of San Antonio in east Pasco banned sex offenders from living in the town even though there is no proof such strident residency rules prevent attacks or decrease recidivism. Certainly, no one wants a registered sex offender living nearby, but by adopting standards beyond current state law, San Antonio essentially wants to dump the potential of a future problem on their neighbors in unincorporated Pasco County.
The San Antonio ordinance, which will be enforced by the Pasco Sheriff's Office since it is under contract to provide 40 hours of weekly patrols inside the municipal limits, bans registered sex offenders from living within 1,500 feet of school bus stops, schools, day care centers and parks. State law does not include school bus stops and sets the buffers at 1,000 feet.
Town leaders, however, are naive if they believe children are any safer today than they were before the ordinance passed.
People likely to molest children will not be deterred by a NIMBY ordinance declaring a school bus stop off limits. Most sex offenders do not troll for children. A U.S. Justice Department study found that 90 percent of the sexual assaults of children younger than 12 involved an assailant known to the victim. Most cases involved the offender's own child or that of a family member or friend and took place inside the family home. Private space is more dangerous to a child's well-being than a public place that invites a visual deterrence.
The San Antonio ordinance also mirrors problems in rules adopted elsewhere. It does not differentiate between a violent predatory pedophile and someone who may have been prosecuted for a consensual act. More importantly, the law can prohibit offenders from living with family members who otherwise could provide support and aid in rehabilitation.
Barriers aren't the answer, particularly in a town with only one registered offender. Seven more offenders live nearby but are not covered by the ordinance since they are outside the city limits.
Keeping tabs on offenders, identifying those at high risk of repeat behavior and providing them treatment is much more effective than simply rolling up the welcome mat and hoping a potential problem moves elsewhere.