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By Cory Smith
Police chief to decide which offenders are exempt
SAN ANTONIO - The San Antonio City Council will vote Thursday on an ordinance that bans adult registered sex offenders from entering into city parks.
Registrants would not be allowed to loiter within 300 feet of a park or live within 1,000 feet of a park unless they already do.
The ban will not apply to juvenile offenders.
“Common sense is that you're always aware of your surroundings, but at the same time, if we know there’s a potentially dangerous individual in the park and we can remove that person, that improves safety,” said District 10 Councilman Carlton Soules. “I'm sure police are going to know the worst-case offenders by sight and at that point they'll be able to remove them.”
The portion of the River Walk between Lexington Avenue and Alamo Street will be included in the ban, but only at the river level, not the street level.
Critics of the ban argue that it will have unintended consequences.
“We know from research and statistics that these type of restrictions don’t work,” said Mary Sue Mulnar, executive director of Texas Voices for Reason and Justice.
Mulnar’s organization advocates for the promotion of common-sense and research-based laws involving registered sex offenders.
“We are receiving calls from registrants. They’re inquiring about waiting at bus stops for their busses. They're asking about taking their children to the park. They’re asking about working near a park. It’s already created a lot of confusion,” she said.
Exemptions from the ordinance will be offered on a case-by-case basis.
Registered offenders must write a letter explaining why the policy will cause unnecessary hardship and ask for an exemption.
The policy’s current draft says the chief of the San Antonio Police Department will determine who receives an exemption.
A public hearing is not mandatory and the decision is final.
“I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a situation where the police chief also acted as judge and jury,” Mulnar said. “I don't see how anything can be determined by a letter. So it could come down to who is the better letter writer.”
The law will not go into effect until the first quarter of 2014 and Soules said that should give the city enough time to iron out the details surrounding the exemption process.
“We’re going through the process over the next 90 days to look at, specifically, if there's a more detailed way to look at (exemptions),” he said.
Soules said the time between the vote and when the law goes into effect will also allow the city to determine the proper park signage and work on a public education campaign to inform offenders of the new law.
Soules said more than 100 municipalities in Texas have similar laws, but San Antonio would by far be the largest to do so.
Mulnar believes much more research is needed before a vote, but she said city council members haves been unresponsive to the information her organization has sent to them.
“They have a responsibility to fully inform every registrant,” she said.
The city will vote on the issue during their regularly scheduled A-Session meeting on Thursday at 9 a.m. inside City Hall.