County Executive Steve Bellone vowed to end the county’s current policy regarding homeless sex offenders within the first year of his administration.
Mr. Bellone made the announcement at a press conference at Southampton Town Hall Thursday afternoon, where he was joined by County Legislator Jay Schneiderman and members of the Southampton Town Board.
The county currently houses homeless sex offenders who receive Department of Social Services assistance in two trailers, one in the parking lot of the county jail in Riverside and one on county police property in Westhampton. Both are located in Southampton Town.
The trailers, which the county initially said would move to different locations, have remained in Southampton Town since 2007.
“We have never once thought that we would not take our share of the responsibility in the Town of Southampton,” said Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst. “Never once have we wanted to shirk that responsibility. We totally accept the fact that have a share of that responsibly to take. But we are the only ones that have been saddled with that responsibility for five years.”
The Riverside trailer currently houses about 20 sex offenders and the Westhampton one about 8, according to Mr. Schneiderman.
He said he has attended many press conferences about eliminating the trailers, but this is the first one where a county executive was present.
He said former County Executive Steve Levy constantly thwarted efforts to eliminate the trailers.
“I am committed to making sure we eliminate this terrible public policy as a burden on the Town of Southampton and the East End within the first your of my administration,” Mr. Bellone, a former Babylon Town Supervisor who was elected county executive last November, vowed Thursday.
Mr. Bellone also announced Thursday that the county will move the Westhampton trailer back 1,700 feet, so that it is behind the fence line of the police training facility there, and there will be an additional fence installed around that trailer for added security. There are no immediate plans to move the Riverside trailer, he said.
However, the county also will have two security guards posted at each trailer site on a nightly basis to log in the offenders who are brought to the trailers on a nightly basis, and that information will be provided to the police.
In addition, Mr. Bellone said, the county will now make sure there is accurate reporting to the New York State Sex Offender Registry.
These changes will take place within the next few weeks, he said.
Mr. Schneiderman said the way the addresses of sex offenders are currently reported on the registry, it’s impossible to tell if they are in the jail or the sex offender trailer.
The county executive said his administration is working on a new policy regarding homeless sex offenders but he offered few specifics, saying the policy is still being development. He did say the current plan to have six smaller shelters housing no more than six sex offenders each will be a part of that plan, and that the plan will not put all of the burden on one town, as is done now, but will spread the distribution of homeless sex offenders throughout the county.
Ms. Throne-Holst said the county is currently spending millions of dollars on taxi fares to transport the sex offenders from the two trailers to points west during the day.
Mr. Bellone’s speech was well received by some critics of the current policy.
“I’m happy,” said Jamesport resident Mason Haas. “It’s been a long time.”
Mr. Haas demonstrated for the media the lack of security at the trailers five years ago when he was able to walk through the woods to the Riverside trailer without being stopped.
“I’m happy we now have a county executive that meets with us.”
“I’m thrilled,” said Andrea Spilka, the president of the Southampton Town Civic Coalition, which has lobbied against the trailers. “This is the first time really we’re going in the right direction.”