Schenectady County

Task force on sex offender laws stalls

After a burst of political energy over strengthening sex-offender restrictions and monitoring last s
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After a burst of political energy over strengthening sex-offender restrictions and monitoring last summer, the Schenectady County initiative has gone dormant, several officials report.

Formed last August, the Schenectady County Council to Prevent Sex Offenses had 90 days, or by mid-November, to issue a report. The task force, which met once in October, missed the deadline.

Task force member Jeff Parry said he “will be surprised if the task force meets again. County legislators put this in as a sop to those who thought they should have been more aggressive, and it has kind of gone away.”

Schenectady County Attorney Chris Gardner, who chairs the task force, said he expects members to begin meeting again this year. He said there was difficulty in coordinating schedules of all 30 members and that meetings were affected by holidays and the November election. He added that the 90-day deadline contained in the legislation was unrealistic, given the complex mandate the group received.

The county Legislature formed the task force following a public outcry over passage of a law limiting where sex offenders could live. The law prevents Levels 1 and 2 convicted sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of facilities that cater to children. Town supervisors said the law would force sex offenders underground or out of the city and into their communities.

The county Legislature directed the task force to develop at least 14 local laws. The laws would establish notification policies when sex offenders move into neighborhoods; would establish a sex offender joint enforcement team to prevent recidivism and confirm residencies of sex offenders; and would establish a review board to issue waivers to sex offenders, among other objectives.

The Legislature would then have 30 days to present the task force’s recommendations before a public hearing and vote to make each a local law.

GOOD INTENTIONS

Parry said he joined the task force to enhance protection from sex offenders. He got involved in the task force as a founder of SNAP, Scotia Neighbors Against Predators. SNAP formed after a Scotia resident took in a Level 3 sex offender as a long-term guest; the offender has since left the neighborhood, he said.

The task force, Parry said, quickly discovered it “opened a can of worms and that the county Legislature is not the best entity to deal with these problems, that the state should deal with them. The task force’s decision was to let this go away.”

Parry said, “A lot of solutions to make neighborhoods safer would take a lot of money and there isn’t the political will to follow up on the items.”

He said he is disappointed that the task force did not follow through. “It would have been healthy to examine the different possible actions that could be taken, even if the decision was no effective action could be taken,” Parry said.

Rene Merrihew, Republican supervisor of the town of Duanesburg and a task force member, said she thinks the task force was “smoke and mirrors, and I don’t expect anything to happen. That’s my guess.”

Merrihew said some task force members “would be very useful in accomplishing some of the tasks put forth, but I do not see how they are taking it seriously by not having any meetings in a five-month period.”

Glenville Supervisor Frank Quinn, a Democrat and another task force member, called the group defunct. “I haven’t seen hide nor hair of it since the elections,” he said.

Quinn said, “Other than we have legislation, I haven’t seen any of the things at least town’s supervisors were interested in seeing addressed.”

Supervisors are concerned the county legislation limiting where sex offenders may live pushes sex offenders from the city and into the suburbs, Quinn said. He said supervisors, who signed a letter protesting the legislation, believe the county Legislature did not do adequate research before acting.

“They have gone down a narrow road saying they shouldn’t live in a certain place. Statistical data does not support that residency restrictions reduce recividism and sex crimes,” Quinn said.

As part of the same legislation that established the task force, the county directed the county sheriff’s department to create a new position. The position would develop methods for intercepting and catching online sex predators.

Sheriff Harry Buffardi said the county’s 2008 budget contains money for the position, but he has yet to fill it. “The position requires special training,” he said. He expects the employee to also monitor sex offenders in the county, ensuring that they remain out of exclusion zones and are registered with the state.

Categories: Schenectady County

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