Miami Beach Buffer Zones Target Sex Offenders
LIANE HANSEN, host:
Across the United States, municipal officials are saying they don't want sex offenders in their towns. In Florida, nearly a dozen cities recently passed tough zoning restrictions to limit where parolees can live. The flurry of ordinances is in response to the murders of two young children last summer by convicted sex offenders. As NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, a new law in Miami Beach is so restrictive, sex offenders are essentially banned from living there.
CARRIE KAHN reporting:
Sex offenders are banned from living 2,500 feet from a school, park or child-care center. Miami Beach Mayor David Dermer says in a town surrounded by water and only seven and a half miles long, that pretty much excludes everywhere.
Mayor DAVID DERMER (Miami Beach, Florida): As a city, we have made a conscious decision to do everything we can to keep these convicted sexual offenders and predators as far away from our children as possible.
KAHN: Miami Beach is much hipper and younger than days past. The median age is now 39, and Dermer says landlords will be fined if they knowingly rent to sex offenders.
Mayor DERMER: We view this offense just as serious as a life safety violation of a building falling down or a fire hazard in a building, and we give them a period of time to cure, to make sure that that particular convicted sex offender or pedophile are not living close to where children are gathering.
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KAHN: And where children do gather in town, like the popular Flamingo Park, city officials have widespread support.
Mr. ANDREW DIAMOND(ph) (Baseball Coach): What they're doing is the right thing, and quite frankly, I think all cities should do the same thing.
KAHN: Andrew Diamond, a local baseball coach, says he wants life sentences for sex offenders.
Mr. DIAMOND: We send the message to sex offenders: Hey, if you're doing that, get help. And if you're not willing to get help, then you don't belong involved in humanity in any way, shape or form.
KAHN: And summer camp leader Tiffany De Jesus(ph) agrees.
Ms. TIFFANY DE JESUS (Summer Camp Leader): The children are the future, and if they keep getting hurt, then it's not going to be good for our country.
KAHN: Not surprising, it's hard to find anyone defending the rights of released sex offenders. But David Crawford, who takes a break from shooting hoops, says he wonders what will happen to the parolees.
Mr. DAVID CRAWFORD: If these guys are gonna make it, they need, you know, help, a lot of help. That's not to excuse what they do. It's horrible. But I don't know if the answer is put them on a bus and send them over to the city of Miami.
KAHN: That won't work, either. Miami just passed the same ordinance on Thursday. Florida officials say they aren't worried about constitutional challenges to the new laws. They point to similar bans in Iowa that have stood up on appeal. But Tulane University constitutional law professor David Gelfand says the US Supreme Court has been clear about such restrictions.
Professor DAVID GELFAND (Tulane University): You can't push undesirable people, be they poor people, be they fleeing felons; nor can you push garbage from one community to another. There has to be a free movement of people and of goods.
KAHN: Constitutional questions aside, some child abuse experts say the zoning bans don't even work. Grier Weeks heads Protect, a national child abuse prevention network. He says that's because the majority of sexual predators aren't strangers lurking in parks. They're relatives or acquaintances of children. But Weeks says he understands the fear Florida residents are experiencing.
Mr. GRIER WEEKS (Protect): I'm sympathetic. I wish them luck; they can drive them to the next county. But when you get to that point, somebody has to say, `You know what? This is enough. We've got to get these people kept in jail longer, and when they get out, we really want them watched closely.'
KAHN: Weeks says so-called maximum-security parole laws are much more effective. They allow police to make unannounced visits and lifetime home searches of sexual predators. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Miami.
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