CRISIS MANAGEMENT (Suffolk says it has fixed most problems in housing sex offenders, but the notifications still frustrate residents)
In 2004 it was discovered by Dave and Laura Cincotta, the parents of six children under age 8, that in recent months, as many as 17 homeless paroled sex offenders had been placed by Suffolk County in emergency housing at the Brook Motel on Sunrise Highway in West Babylon. According to the state's online registry, four currently listed as residents there are Level Three offenders, those considered most likely to commit such crimes again. They're being warehoused in my neighborhood and there's too many temptations, said Dave Cincotta, adding that parents were concerned about sex offenders lurking near bus stops. Babylon officials looking into the matter say the town is being forced to shoulder an unfair burden of housing homeless sex offenders, because the Brook Motel is the only shelter provider in Suffolk that was willing to take them, and met the requirements of a 2002 county law prohibiting convicted sex offenders from being placed within 1,000 feet of schools, day care facilities and senior housing.
Bowing to pressure from the nearby residents, the owner of the motel said that he will no longer accept new placements. The decision placed Suffolk County's social services department, which is required by state law to house homeless sex offenders released in the county, in a bind.
After two weeks of community uproar, a Suffolk County Supreme Court judge issued a temporary injunction on October 27, to prevent the motel owners from using the premises...for any purpose other than a motel for the use of transients. Social services department spokesman Dennis Nowak confirmed that the Brook Motel no longer provides shelter services for the county.
The quandary about where to house the homeless sex offenders in Suffolk County has packed up and moved, at least temporarily, from Babylon to Yaphank. Since October, when pressure from outraged residents and a legal challenge from riled Babylon officials led to the removal of five homeless sex offenders from the motel, county officals have been scrambling to come up with a long-term housing solution for such individuals, who by Suffolk law may not be placed within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, day care centers and nursing homes. On November 8, Legislator Peter O'Leary (R-Moriches) and Brookhaven councilman James Tullo held a news conference to decry what they said was the county's latest idea: placing up to eight homeless sex offenders in a trailer tucked in the back of a county parking lot off Yaphank Avenue. Nowak said that, while the trailer had been one of a number of options considered by the county, the trailer has not been used to house the homeless and will not be used to house the homeless. Noting that homeless sex offenders make up just a handful of the nearly 700 sex offenders who live in Suffolk County, Laura Ahearn, the executive director of Parents for Megan's Law, also called for strengthening state laws on supervision after sex offenders are released from prison. We have a serious issue with these guys going around unsupervised, she said.
While a just completed report outlines a number of possible housing options, department officials said the clustering problem had essentially been solved through improved communications between the various state and local agencies, including the state division of parole, that monitors sex offenders after they serve their time and return to their communities.
What the report by Suffolk's Department of Social Services acknowledges but can't answer is how residents are supposed to process and respond to the slew of state-mandated notifications they receive when sex offenders move into their neighborhood. The report says that notification itself has increased frustrations and anxiety among residents.
Proposed solutions include enhancing post-release supervision beyond parole, counseling, and electronic monitoring to ensure offenders obey the terms of their parole. Other advocates say the best way to protect children from sex offenders is civil commitment, where the most dangerous offenders are detained in treatment facilities after prison until they no longer pose a risk to public safety.
HOW MANY THERE ARE:
Below are the number of registered sex offenders on Long Island. Offenders are classified by level, with Level 3 deemed as having the highest risk of recidivsm. (Source: County and Local Police)
SUFFOLK (as of December 4)
Total: 832 (39 not yet classified)
Level 1: 319
Level 2: 305
Level 3: 169
NASSAU (as of last week)
Level 1: 221
Level 2: 171
Level 3: 79