New sex offender plan to be presented today

01/30/2013 10:32 PM |

TIM GANNON PHOTO | About 50 people attended a community forum on the county’s homeless sex offender trailers in Riverside and Westhampton Wednesday night at the county center, where speakers criticized the county for not removing the trailers after seven years.

Suffolk County’s new plan for dealing with sex offenders will be presented to the county Legislature’s public safety committee at 9:30 a.m. Thursday and it could be approved as early as next week, according to South Fork Legislator Jay Schneiderman.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone directed the county police department to develop “a comprehensive approach to better protect our communities from sex offenders” on Jan. 2, after failing to meet his own goal of eliminating the two homeless sex offender trailers in Westhampton and Riverside by the end of 2012.

Those trailers continue to draw concern from East End residents and officials, who say the county’s entire homeless sex offender population is being dumped on one town.

That was evident at a community forum hosted by Mr. Schneiderman (I-Montauk) at the county center Thursday night, where about 50 people gathered and vented their frustration at the county’s failure to remove the two trailers after seven years.

Mr. Schneiderman said he had spoken to Mr. Bellone the day before the meeting and had gotten some snippets of the new sex offender plan, which will be presented at Thursday’s committee meeting by Suffolk Police Chief James Burke and Laura Ahearn, Executive Director of Parents for Megan’s Law.

Mr. Schneiderman said he had hoped the new plan would have been ready before Wednesday’s forum, but it wasn’t. Mr. Bellone was not present, sending a member of his staff instead.

“The county executive said this new proposal would have the most intense monitoring of sex offenders anywhere in the country,” Mr. Schneiderman said. Mr. Bellone had originally planned to enact a plan the county legislature created in 2011, calling for the creation of six mini-shelters throughout the county, to replace the two trailers on the East End, which house about 40 homeless sex offenders, most of whom are not from the East End, Mr. Schneiderman said.

But Mr. Bellone felt it would take time to build these mini-shelters and each one would be met with intense opposition from neighbors, Mr. Schneiderman said.

So instead, he asked the police department to come up with a new plan that addresses not only the 40 or so homeless sex offenders but also the approximately 1,000 sex offenders who aren’t homeless in Suffolk County.

Mr. Schneiderman said the new plan could be voted on by the full Legislature Tuesday.

“The county executive said that if it doesn’t pass, he is willing to do the mini-shelters, but it is going to take time to build them,” he said.

Bill O’Leary, a forensic psychologist who worked with sex offenders and other criminals in conjunction with the police, said at Wednesday’s meeting that the average cost of putting a homeless sex offender in one of the trailers is $3,000 per person per month, whereas the average cost to house an ordinary homeless person is $309 per person per month.

“This is because of all the residency restrictions [placed on sex offenders],” he said. Living in the trailer hinders attempts to reduce recidivism in the sex offenders, he said.

“The better I do my job, the better chance someone won’t get hurt later,” Mr. O’Leary said. “I fought against the trailers because it compromises my ability to do my job. Instead of being able to get what they’re supposed to get from treatment, most of the ones sent back to jail are from the trailers, and are homeless. They are not getting anything from therapy, because they are worried about where they are going to sleep that night or where they are going to get food.”

Amy Davidson, who lives in downtown Riverhead, said she has two kids and worries about the proximity of the trailer at the jail parking lot to downtown Riverhead.

“I would like my kids to be able to ride their bikes to Ralph’s Italian Ices and know they are safe,” she said.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said it will be difficult to get the 18-member county Legislature to give up the trailers, because only two of the 18 represent the East End.

“The Town of Riverhead did a $104,000 budget transfer to increase patrols on Main Street,” Mr. Walter said. “Main Street is by far the heaviest patrolled area in the town, and that is in no small part because of this sex offender trailer.”

Mason Haas of Jamesport said the county is paying about $1.4 million a year to house the sex offenders in the trailers.

“This program is not working,” he said. “It needs to be fixed.”

tgannon@timesreview.com