June 20, 2018
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Bangor council to consider residency restrictions for sex offenders

By Eric Russell, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — The city moved a step closer to imposing residency restrictions that would make about one-third of Bangor off-limits to certain sex offenders.

The City Council’s Government Operations Committee voted 2-1 on Tuesday to send an ordinance change to the full council for consideration on Aug. 23. The change would restrict sex offenders who have committed felonies where the victim is under age 14 from living within 750 feet of schools, parks or any other area where children are the primary users.

The proposal was the idea of Bangor resident Angela Hoy, who told the councilors that she has been concerned about activity she has seen at a park near her home. With the help of a local attorney, Hoy drafted an ordinance change modeled after a state law that passed last year allowing municipalities to enact reasonable restrictions.

Councilors first debated the proposal at a workshop in July, which led to a couple of minor changes from Hoy’s initial draft. The first would give an offender who violates the new local law 25 days to vacate his or her residence. The second change stipulates that near larger park areas, such as Broadway Park, offenders must comply with the 750-foot buffer only from the playground portions of the park.

Councilor Pat Blanchette, who supported the ordinance change, said the city has come a long way on the issue, and she was comfortable with what was being asked.

Councilor Geoff Gratwick cast the lone opposing vote.

“There is no evidence that this works, and in some states it’s even been counterproductive,” he said.

Bangor has slightly more than 200 registered sex offenders, according to Police Chief Ron Gastia. All are required to register with the state’s online sex offender database, but they also are monitored regularly by one of Gastia’s officers.

One of the biggest reasons registered sex offenders tend to live in service centers such as Bangor is the availability of rental housing and because support services are more prevalent in cities.

If the ordinance change is approved, roughly one-third of Bangor would fall within the restricted zones, including a large part of the urban core, where many rental properties are located.

One provision of the proposed law would allow offenders to remain in their residences after the restrictions are imposed, even if they fall within the 750-foot zone. If the offender moved, the restrictions then would be imposed.

Denise Lord, associate commissioner of the Maine Department of Corrections, has criticized residency restrictions in the past.

“The research is clear that restrictions don’t improve public safety,” she told the Bangor Daily News last month. “In fact, areas that have imposed restrictions have had negative impacts like pushing offenders underground.”

Maine’s laws governing convicted sex offenders have been in flux since 2006 when a young Canadian man stalked and killed two men he found on the state’s online sex offender registry. One of the victims was convicted of statutory rape against a victim who later became his wife.

Councilor Hal Wheeler, who supported sending the matter to the full council, wondered whether Bangor’s new ordinance restrictions could be challenged in court if approved.

City Solicitor Norman Heitmann said that was possible, but it would have to be a challenge of the state law that allowed municipalities to adopt restrictions. The law has been in place for more than one year and has not been challenged yet.

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