November 2, 2013

Soules aims to keep parks free of sex offenders

11-2-2013 Texas:

SAN ANTONIO — If a suggested ordinance targeting sex offenders in San Antonio becomes law, city parks would gain a 1,000-foot buffer zone to help keep children safe from potential predators, the plan's author says.

Councilman Carlton Soules' proposal would create “child safety zones” around city-run parks. Sex offenders would be banned from the zones and would be prohibited from loitering or establishing either a permanent or temporary residence within 1,000 feet. The pitch has unanimous support from the City Council subcommittee that oversees public safety policies.

Soules, who previously served on the city's parks board, said he has asked city staff to write a draft ordinance for review by the Public Safety Committee, which he chairs, before the full council can vote on the measure. The proposal would give police officers another “tool,” he said, to keep city parks safe.

“There have been a couple incidents in the last couple years of people exposing themselves to kids in parks,” Soules said Thursday.

Under the proposal, registered sex offenders who live within the proposed 1,000-foot boundary around parks would be “grandfathered in” and not forced to move. There would also be exemptions for minors and for adult offenders who were convicted as minors.

A registered sex offender could also petition Municipal Court for an exemption from the ordinance if, in its opinion, “undue hardship will result from compliance,” according to Soules' Council Consideration Request — a two-page city document that starts the process of creating an ordinance.

“As a home-rule municipality, the City of San Antonio has a constitutional right of self-government and a compelling interest to promote and protect the safety and welfare of its citizens,” Soules writes in the CCR. “For that reason, the city should work to create a Child Safety Zone around the city's park system where children regularly congregate in concentrated numbers.”

Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson, an advocate for ex-offenders' re-entry into society, questioned whether Soules' proposal could be effectively enforced.

“I would just say our best remedy for people who have violated our laws is, first, to secure faithfully our society, and (second), try to reduce recidivism,” he said. “The whole re-entry process is to try to stop people from being caught up in this cycle of repeat criminality.”

Soules says police officers responding to a call for help in a park today might not be able to remove a sex offender, unless that person had committed a crime on the property. Officers would have legal standing to remove the offender under the new rule.

Soules has also asked city staff to determine how much the Police Department spends maintaining the local sex offender registry. The councilman plans to ask council to create a fee that offenders would pay upon registering, which they're required to do. ..Source.. by Josh Baugh

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