Sex offender madness

class=img_thumbleft>On July 10 the Albertville city council unanimously passed an ordinance limiting where convicted sex offenders can live within the town. Under the new zoning restriction, such criminals are precluded from residing within 1,000 feet of any park, daycare center, school, playground, or house of worship.

The uphsot: 97.2 percent of housing in Albertville (pop. 5,783) is now off limits to sex offenders. The policy applies to all level three sex offenders, as well as those who have committed sex crimes involving minors under the age of 16.

Albertville, located roughly 30 miles northwest of Minneapolis, is at least the third Minnesota municipality to enact sex offender residency restrictions in recent months. In February Taylors Falls passed a measure prohibiting level three sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of anywhere that children gather--basically making the entire city off limits. The town of Wyoming enacted a similar measure the following month. As KARE 11 reported this restricted level three offenders to a 50 acre patch of land that lacks sewer or water lines. Minneapolis and Maplewood have also contemplated similar measures.

Taylors Falls, Wyoming, and Albertville have something else in common: there are no level three sex offenders living in the towns presently. In fact, of the 111 such criminals currently registered with the state, 50 of them reside in Minneapolis.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota plans to file a lawsuit contesting the Taylor Falls' ordinance. Iowa enacted a statewide provisision severely limiting where sex offenders can live in 2002, and it has so far withstood legal scrutiny. The law was initially deemed unconstitutional by a federal judge, but that decision was overturned on appeal. The U.S. Supreme Court then declined to review the matter. "The concept anyway does not appear to violate federal constitutional provisions," says Albertville city attorney Mike Couri, who drafted the municipality's ordinance.

But Nancy Sabin, executive director of the Jacob Wetterling Foundation, says that such provisions are ineffective in preventing sex crimes. "By passing what are called safety zones or residency restrictions you actually drive the people underground and make it harder to find them and supervise them to make sure they're compliant," Sabin says. (Indeed Iowa has seen an increasing number of sex offenders going underground since its law was implemented.)

Sabin further notes that 90 percent of sex crimes never get reported and that most such acts are committed by people who are known to the victims. "These towns are not doing the research before they pass the law," she says. "If they did the research they wouldn't waste their time."