2008-02-19: Union Leader: Aldermen reject sex-offender housing ban

By Scott Brooks, New Hampshire Union Leader (original article)

MANCHESTER — Aldermen yesterday said no to a proposal that would have banned registered sex offenders from living near schools, parks and other places frequented by children.

The measure was unanimously rejected by the Public Safety, Health and Traffic Committee at the urging of the city’s police department. Deputy Police Chief Marc Lussier and officers in the juvenile division argued the restrictions would not prevent offenders from committing another crime, and could drive some offenders into homelessness.

“Having residency restrictions is not going to be the answer,” Sgt. Scott Fuller said.

Leo Pepino, the former alderman who has lobbied hard for a measure that would keep offenders away from children, said he plans to take the fight directly to the full Board of Mayor and Aldermen. [We’ll be watching. —Ed.]

“I’ll keep working to get a couple more [votes],” he said yesterday.

The committee’s vote was yet another defeat for anti-crime activists who hope to restrict the number of places where registered sex offenders can live. A similar proposal in Nashua was recently vetoed by the outgoing mayor, Bernie Streeter.

At least five communities in New Hampshire have adopted residency restrictions in recent years. Officials in Derry have said they would consider a proposal to keep offenders out of certain neighborhoods after it was revealed a man convicted many years ago of killing a child was living near a school. The man has since moved out of the state.

Pepino said the scare in Derry should convince people that restrictions are needed.

“If they had had a residency [restriction] like this, he wouldn’t have been there in the first place,” Pepino told the aldermen.

Roughly 300 sex offenders on the state’s registry are living in Manchester, police said. Fuller said the department currently requires each offender to come by the station twice a year to update his or her registration.

In addition, he said, officers in the juvenile division try to stop by each offender’s home as many as three or four times each year to confirm he or she is living at the listed address.

With a compliance rate of 97 percent, Fuller said, “the current system is working.” Police say as much as 90 to 95 percent of all sexual assaults are committed by people who know the victim.

In seven years with the juvenile division, Fuller said, no more than four convicted offenders were arrested for committing another sex crime. In all cases, he said, the victim was known to the assailant.

“There are very few stranger attacks, per se,” he said.

All five members of the public safety committee voted to receive and file. Members are Bill Shea, Russ Ouellette, Dan O’Neil, Jim Roy and Peter Sullivan.

“I don’t think the citizens and young people of Manchester can be protected more than what our police department is already doing,” O’Neil said.

Committee members said they hope to find extra money for the police department, so officers can do more compliance checks than they already do. Fuller said the department currently averages about 15 compliance checks a week, depending on its case load.