Editorial: Bellone made good on promises — we must too

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | County Executive Steve Bellone announces the homeless sex offender trailers will close within the next three days.
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | County Executive Steve Bellone announces last week the homeless sex offender trailers would close.

The fight against placing two trailers for homeless sex offenders on the East End in 2007 was never a NIMBY protest. It was a pure and good fight. With good results.

Locals here acknowledged early on that both sexual assaults and the management of convicted offenders once they are out of jail are societal problems. Protesters in the Riverhead area and Westhampton said repeatedly at rallies and community forums that they would “take care of their own,” meaning they would house homeless sex offenders from the area.

Anti-trailer activists recognized that the county’s policy of taxiing homeless sex offenders into Southampton Town daily from all over Suffolk’s 900 square miles was not only unjust but immoral as well. The policy was immoral because it shifted the burden of managing offenders from the entire county to one town and, worse, put the safety of children living in some areas over that of children living in others.

The policy devalued human lives — our lives — and that’s what galvanized and inspired local protesters, turning them into an unstoppable force against what many perceived to be an immovable object: a county executive, Steve Levy, much more concerned with the population and voting base to the west, backed by county legislators content to send their undesirables to someone else’s district.

Along with the protests and op/ed columns, advocates were also working behind the scenes, meeting face-to-face with policymakers to help them understand why the county’s policy was so wrong. And many people in positions of influence were persuaded to help.

Then in March 2011, Mr. Levy — on whose watch the trailer policy was enacted and became entrenched — announced unceremoniously amid a DA investigation that he wouldn’t be seeking another term. That same month, when county executive candidate Steve Bellone stopped in Riverhead during a campaign “listening tour,” locals made sure he got an earful about the trailer policy.

“This has been a real education,” Mr. Bellone said. “We’ve been involved and very aggressive on the issue of sex offenders in Babylon for many, many years now. But what you are experiencing out here is unlike anything I’ve seen.”

Not long after taking office, the former Babylon Town supervisor pledged to shutter the trailers and implement a new, more just policy of housing and monitoring homeless sex offenders. This past weekend, Mr. Bellone made good on that promise, not because it was popular or expedient, but because it was the right and just thing to do. Now, through the Community Protection Act, Riverhead and Southampton Town residents must be prepared to make good on their promises and cooperate with town and county officials as they execute plans to house the offenders at shelters spread across the entire county — because that also includes our own backyards.