July 28, 2013

Mayor: Offender law change 'will never happen'

7-28-2013 Indiana:

Mayor Dennis Tyler injected a strong dose of political reality last week into a community meeting on sex offenders living in Muncie’s Old West End.

State parole officials, responding to concerns about a cluster of paroled offenders living in that neighborhood, suggested Old West End residents lobby their legislators to adjust Indiana’s 1,000-foot rule, which forbids those convicted of sex crimes against children, or found to be sexually violent predators, from living within that distance of schools, parks and day care facilities.

Some law enforcement officials have joined their parole counterparts in questioning the value and logic behind the rule, noting the difficulty it poses in finding housing for the offenders, while perhaps doing little to truly increase safety. It also results in an abundance of the felons living in areas like the Old West End, which has no schools and parks.

“That’s never going to happen,” Tyler, a state representative for six years before becoming mayor in 2012, said when a parole agent suggested the 1,000-foot standard be reduced, perhaps to 500 feet. “You apparently have never had a political attack ad.”

It’s not hard to imagine the type of campaign commercials Tyler is suggesting would appear should state legislators trim that residency limit for sex offenders.

“Representative (fill in the blank) voted to allow molesters to move closer to your children,” an announcer would grimly proclaim, over a film that shows a nefarious character lurking in the shadows, watching youngsters as they play in a backyard.

In a later interview, Tyler again said such a reduction “will never happen,” precisely because legislators aren’t going to subject themselves to that kind of withering criticism.

During his years at the Statehouse, Tyler said the only proposals he heard regarding the residency limitation were to increase, not reduce, the distance that offenders must live from child-oriented facilities.

Much of Tuesday’s meeting, hosted by the Old West End Neighborhood Association, focused on two “DOC Assist” houses, at Powers and Elliott streets, where temporary lodging is provided to recently released sex offenders with nowhere else to go.

Parole officials confirmed they are the only such facilities in an 11-county district, and said the reason for that is simple: They can’t find any landlord, other than Muncie’s Calvin Gilliam, willing to provide housing to those felons.

Several Old West End neighborhood residents — as well as Tyler and his police chief, Steven Stewart — said they knew nothing about the “DOC Assist” houses, in use since June 2011, before reading a June 30 article in The Star Press.

After a parole agent suggested citizens could keep track of where sex offenders live via an online registry, Brad King, president of the neighborhood association, noted a majority of Old West End residents do not have access to the Internet.

“I can certainly sympathize with those people,” a frustrated Tyler said at week’s end, acknowledging that local officials appear to have few options. “I believe under the law that we can’t tell a landlord who they can rent to and who they can’t rent to. ... (But) when do you determine enough is enough (in terms of sex offenders) in a community?” ..Source.. by Douglas Walker and Keith Roysdon

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