Levy: New GPS law may be lost cause

04/08/2010 12:00 AM |

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy has signed into law a bill that requires all sex offenders who receive assistance from the county Department of Social Services to wear GPS tracking devices.

But the new law, which was unanimously approved by the county Legislature two weeks ago, may never take effect.

“The County Executive will support the bill but cautions legislators that the state may step in to block its enforcement,” said Mark Smith, a spokesman for Mr. Levy.

Some have argued that sex offenders who are not on probation cannot legally be forced to wear GPS devices. The new county law would apply to all sex offenders who receive assistance from Social Services, regardless of probation status.

“Our Department of Social Services sent a letter to the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance last week seeking OTDA guidance as to whether this resolution is legally enforceable,” Dan Aug, another spokesman for Mr. Levy, later said in an e-mail. “OTDA has 30 days from the date of our letter to respond, so we should hear back within three weeks or so.”

The county houses homeless sex offenders in two trailers, one on the jail property in Riverside and one on county land in Westhampton. The state recently said the county needs to provide shower facilities and hot water to these sex offenders, but it did not require the county to close the trailers, said Dr. Edward Hernandez, the deputy commissioner at the county Department of Social Services.

Dr. Hernandez said that about half to two-thirds of the sex offenders who receive assistance from the agency already have GPS devices required through parole or probation.

Legislator Jack Eddington (I-Medford), who sponsored the GPS proposal, said the GPS monitoring plan is a more cost-effective alternative to the trailers. He said it now costs the county about $1 million a year in cab fares to transport sex offenders back and forth to the trailers. The cost of outfitting 35 sex offenders with GPS devices is expected to be about $451,000 annually.

“Obviously, the whole issue is controversial, and I don’t think any of the ideas we’ve had are great, but a GPS would help us track where they are,” Mr. Eddington said. One of the concerns East End residents have with the trailers is that nobody knows where the sex offenders spend their time during the day. The GPS devices, would solve that problem, he said.

Mr. Eddington noted that County Executive Steve Levy wants to close the trailers, so the GPS monitoring is a viable fall-back option.

A number of states, including Illinois, Florida, Missouri, Ohio and Oklahoma, reportedly have laws requiring certain sex offenders to wear GPS devices permanently. However, other states, including California, require the devices only for sex offenders still on parole. Skeptics say GPS units may well tell authorities where sex offenders are, but the devices don’t indicate what the offenders are doing.

In one 2009 case in Washington State, a 13-year-old girl was killed by a sex offender who police say was wearing a GPS device when he committed the murder.

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