Barre reaffirms sex offender curbs; Rutland poised to join in crackdownStefan Hard/Times Argus
Barre resident Nancy Wolfe, center, listens intently to Barre City Police Chief Tim Bombardier, foreground, as Bombardier answers her question during a public hearing Tuesday on a new Barre ordinance that places residency restrictions on sex offenders. Background left, Sen. Anne Cummings (D-Washington) listens to the discussion.
BARRE – Tuesday night was déjà vu all over again for city councilors, who for the second straight week adopted the state's first-ever ordinance establishing residency restrictions for registered sex offenders.
The difference is this time the clock is ticking and in 20 days convicted sex offenders will be prohibited from establishing a residence within 1,000 feet of any school – public or private – or municipally maintained park, playground or recreational facility.
A week after inadvertently adopting the ordinance before a charter provision requiring its publication in the local newspaper was satisfied, councilors unanimously re-approved the measure that was championed by Mayor Thomas Lauzon.
Meanwhile, officials in Rutland appeared poised to adopt a similar ordinance in the near future, perhaps with even stricter fines for violations. Aldermen in Rutland reviewed a draft ordinance similar to Barre's at their meeting Tuesday night. State officials have said Rutland has 122 sex offenders living in the city.
Although the decision in Barre was, for all practical purposes, identical to the one reached last week, the public hearing that preceded it had a decidedly different tone.
Councilors, who fielded comments from a largely supportive audience a week ago, heard concerns and even some criticism Tuesday night.
Barre resident Neysha Stuart said she was "dismayed" to learn the council had approved the ordinance while she was away on vacation last week and urged members not to repeat that mistake.
"I don't come here as an advocate for sex offenders, in fact I come here as someone interested in protecting children, that's what I do for my job," she said, expressing her belief the Barre ordinance would perpetuate a myth that she and others have argued is at odds with reality.
Stuart said Allen Gilbert, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont, hit the nail on the head last week when he suggested ordinances like the one proposed in Barre ignored an all-too-common component of many sex crimes.
"'It's not a crime of geography it's a crime of relationship,'" Stuart said quoting Gilbert, and suggesting his observation was in keeping with her professional experience.
"People are allowed to go along in their mind and believe it's the creepy person in the trench coat who does the sex abuse that's lurking around the playground and that's not what happens," she said. "I can't remember the last time in my job that I heard about that (happening) … It's the uncles, the cousins, the aunts and the nieces, that's whose doing it."
Although Lauzon challenged Stuart's assertion, Police Chief Tim Bombardier conceded that a combination of familial relationships and date-rape type incidents involving teenagers account for perhaps 75 percent of the sex offense cases he handles.
Still, Lauzon was undaunted.
"Your comments don't weaken my resolve," he told Stuart.
"I'm sorry to hear that," she replied.
Stuart wasn't the only resident to raise questions about the ordinance. Nancy Wolfe worried the ordinance would lull parents into a false sense of security.
"The assumption is that these people (sex offenders) will obey the ordinance, (but) who's to say if they don't?" she asked. "Police can't be watching them all the time."
Wolfe said she would like to see sex offenders required to wear devices that GPS devices that would enable law enforcement to track their whereabouts at all times.
Bombardier explained that technology was not without its problems, but said Wolfe raised a fair point.
"By no means should anybody drop their guard," he said, repeatedly describing the ordinance as a "tool" and stressing it was not a silver bullet.
"I don't want anyone to downplay their vigilance because of this ordinance," he said.
Although the ordinance does create residency restrictions and prohibits sex offenders, with very limited exceptions from going to schools, parks, playgrounds, recreational facilities and registered daycares, it would not stop a sex offender from parking in the street in front of any of those properties.
Bombardier stressed the ordinance won't displace any of the 45 sex offenders currently living in Barre, or those who move into the community in the next 20 days. However, he said the goal of creating 1,000 foot buffer zones around sensitive properties would eventually be realized.
"Nothing's overnight buffer zones will be created through attrition (but) buffer zones will be created," he said.
The residency restrictions will apply to registered sex offenders moving into the community for the first time, or those already living in Barre who move within in the community, or commit another crime.
The ordinance provides for civil fines of up to $500 for sex offenders who violate the ordinance, as well as landlords, homeowners, and state agencies who aid in the violation.MORE IN Central VermontThe following is a sampling of calls to Montpelier police in recent days. Full Story
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