SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — Under a local ordinance approved Monday night, certain registered sex offenders will be prevented from living within 750 feet of South Portland schools.
The South Portland City Council approved the measure, which applies to individuals convicted of Class A, B or C sex offenses against victims under the age of 14. The ordinance also sets the buffer zones around nonprofit organizations and recreational facilities primarily used by children in addition to the aforementioned schools.
“Many people are surprised we don’t already have an ordinance like this in place,” South Portland Mayor Gerard Jalbert said Monday night. “There are still plenty of places people can live regardless of what their prior convictions might have been. We’re not saying people won’t have anywhere in the city they can live, we’re just saying there are some areas that are more sensitive.”
In total, the new rule would create 750-foot sex offender setbacks around 28 properties. Sex offenders affected by the ordinance would be given 30 days to move and then fined $500 each day they continued to live within the 750-foot buffer.
According to the Maine Sex Offender Registry, there are nine registered sex offenders living within the city limits, five of whom were convicted of offenses against minors.
Another 14 registered sex offenders come to South Portland to work or take college classes.
“Having four children that grew up in this community and 13 grandchildren, I’m always very wary of this crazy world we live in,” said City Councilor Tom Blake. “There are a lot of people in our society that I believe our children need protection from.”
The ordinance grandfathers designated sex offenders who lived within the setback areas prior to the Monday night passage of the rule — although it was unclear whether any individuals convicted of Class A, B or C offenses against victims under 14 are living within 750 feet of schools or other facilities primarily used by children.
“I do believe it’s the right thing for our community to do,” South Portland Police Chief Edward Googins told the council.
“I think one of the basic responsibilities of us on the city council is to protect the people of our community, especially the little ones,” said City Councilor Linda Cohen.
South Portland is at least the third municipality this year to approve an ordinance restricting where certain sex offenders can live in the city under a 2009 state law allowing such local rules.
Residents in Anson and Bingham reportedly voted earlier this year to implement similar ordinances to the one passed by the South Portland council Monday.
City officials in Bangor and Portland considered such ordinances several years ago, but each city ultimately opted not to adopt the residency restrictions.
Opponents of the restrictions, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, have argued the residency ordinances do little to make children safer. Representatives of the organization have in the past said most sex offenders know their victims and perpetrate the crimes in private homes rather than prey upon unknown children in schools or other high-traffic facilities, making a residency rule at best ineffective and at worst an infringement upon the rights of sex offenders.
Nobody spoke against the measure Monday night at the South Portland City Council meeting, however. The ordinance will go into effect in 20 days.