County Executive Steve Bellone is urging Suffolk County Police Department officials to come up with a comprehensive plan to better protect residents from registered sex offenders.
No matter what the plan is, it must end the county’s policy of housing homeless sex offenders in trailers on the East End, Mr. Bellone said Wednesday.
The county currently provides overnight housing for homeless sex offenders who receive Department of Social Services assistance in two construction 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 will develop the most stringent monitoring and enforcement program in the nation,” Mr. Bellone said in a press release about a larger plan to better protect the public from sex offenders living in Suffolk County.
Mr. Bellone has vowed to end the county’s current policy regarding homeless sex offenders within the first year of his administration but missed his January 1 deadline to close the trailers.
Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) said although he’s “disappointed” Mr. Bellone failed to keep his promise, he’s “encouraged” about his new approach.
“I think those who are affected are losing patience, but hopefully not losing hope,” said of his Riverside and Westhampton constituents.
The Legislature approved last year a plan to create a “mini shelter” in each town that would provide 24 hour housing to no more than six sex offenders at a time. The program’s design would only allow housing for up to 36 homeless sex offenders, which Mr. Bellone’s spokesman Jon Schneider said the county executive has “concerns” about.
Since the county is currently responsible to provide housing for over 40 sex offenders, Mr. Schneider said the law would already have to be amended to either allow more than six sex offenders in a shelter or place more than one shelter in a town.
Mr. Schneiderman, whose district includes both homeless sex offender locations, agreed the mini-shelter plan is problematic but said he believes it’s the best way to “share the burden.”
On Tuesday, former County Executive Steve Levy criticized Mr. Schneiderman on Twitter saying, “Leg. Schneiderman says can’t move east end sex offenders on his own, but he blocked voucher plan that would have had them moved 2 years ago.”
Mr. Schneiderman described Mr. Levy’s comment as “inaccurate” and “phony” since he and former North Fork Legislator Ed Romaine cast the only “yes” votes for the voucher program.
Mr. Schneiderman said he voted in favor of the voucher program, which involves providing homeless sex offenders $90 a night to stay in a motel, even though he didn’t like it because he believed it was a better plan than the current trailer policy.
“He could have implemented the plan on his own as county executive if he wanted to, but instead he brought it to the Legislature when he knew it would fail, overwhelming” Mr. Schneiderman said.
When asked if the police department is taking another look at a voucher program in addition to de-clustering homeless sex offenders housing on the East End, Mr. Schneider said “everything is on the table.”
“The only thing not on the table is maintaining the trailer policy, which the county executive firmly believes is a burden on East End communities,” he said.
Mr. Schneider said the police department will work with other local agencies, advocacy organizations and mental health experts to determine how to strengthen the county’s overall approach in dealing with over 1,000 sex offenders.
He stressed there has been “far too much focus” on how to deal with the four percent that are homeless and believes the new direction of the discussion is needed in order to come up with ways to track and monitor the majority of county sex offenders.
The new plan is expected to be submitted to the Legislature later this month. County officials said the earliest the plan could be voted is at the Legislature’s Feb. 5 meeting.