September 17, 2015

Saco is next to pursue sex offender ordinance

9-17-15 Maine:

BIDDEFORD/SACO/OLD ORCHARD BEACH – Saco may soon join Biddeford and Old Orchard Beach in restricting where registered sex offenders may live.

Biddeford passed an ordinance in May, and Old Orchard Beach passed a similar ordinance last month. The proposed ordinance, drafted by Saco Police Chief Bradley Paul, uses almost the exact same language as the Biddeford and Old Orchard Beach ordinances, and is set for a public hearing Monday, Oct. 5.

Paul said the ordinances in various municipalities are all very similar “because they are all tightly constrained by state law.”

State law provides that residency restrictions can only be applied to registered sex offenders who have been convicted of a Class A, B or C felony crime against a person who has not yet attained the age of 14. The law also confines the areas where the designated offenders may be prohibited from living to a 750- foot area surrounding elementary, middle and secondary schools, or publicly owned property where children are the primary users.

In addition to Thornton Academy and the city’s elementary and middle schools, offenders would not be allowed to reside within a 750-foot proximity of the community center on Franklin Street, Pepperell Park on Beach Street, Diamond Riverside Park on Irving Street, Saco Little League Field on Summer Street and all of the playgrounds and athletic fields maintained by the Saco Parks and Recreation Department.

Under state law, offenders who already established residence in those areas before a setback is established must be allowed to continue living in the home. In Old Orchard Beach and Biddeford, violators of the ordinance may be subject to fines of $500 per day and a no-trespass order for failing to heed a notice to vacate. The proposed Saco ordinance also applies the same $500 fine.

“It’s just a fact of life that sex offenders need to live someplace,” Paul said. “In many cases, they’ve paid their debt to society.”

Paul said some communities in other states have established buffer zones up to a half-mile wide, effectively forcing sex offenders into other communities. Paul said Maine law doesn’t allow municipalities to establish setbacks that are large enough to keep offenders entirely out of any one community.

“With our neighboring communities passing ordinances, we were concerned that we become more attractive by comparison,” Paul said. “I don’t think any of the three of us (Biddeford, Saco or Old Orchard Beach) want to create a situation where we’re forcing offenders among us to move to other communities.”

The number of registered offenders in any community varies as new offenders are added and other offenders are taken off the registry. As of the Courier’s deadline, according to the Maine Sex Offender Registry, Old Orchard Beach had 20 registrants, Saco, 31, and Biddeford, 63. The registry does not identify, however, which would be subject to the restrictions for committing crimes against victims under the age of 14.

The proposed ordinance was drafted at the request of Ward 3 City Councilor Thomas Roughan.

Old Orchard Beach Police Chief Dana Kelley said Old Orchard Beach passed the ordinance last month in response to the publicity around allegations that two retired Biddeford police officers sexually abused young men decades ago. Kelley said he realized that, while state law allows for residency restrictions, his department could not enforce them without a town ordinance on the books. ..Continued.. by Ben Meiklejohn Staff Writer

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