Sunday, January 19, 2014

FL - Is Intracoastal big enough barrier to sex offender?

Sex offender buffer zonesOriginal Article


By Larry Barszewski

FORT LAUDERDALE - The city says a registered sex offender lives too close to Birch State Park, even though a child at the park would have to swim or kayak almost 400 feet across the Intracoastal Waterway to pass by his Coral Ridge home.

By foot or bike, the distance is closer to 1.5 miles.

_____, 51, is suing the city in federal court, saying he should not have to move out of the home he has lived in with his domestic partner for 18 years.

City officials say they are following the 2007 law that prohibits sexual offenders from living within 1,400 feet of a park, school or other spot where children are likely to gather. They say that distance is determined "as the crow flies."

"Looking at this case through a rational lens, the conclusion is inescapable that this ordinance should not apply to _____," said Brian Bieber, his attorney.

But it's common for sexual offender laws to take a straight-line approach when determining where an offender can and cannot live.

"It doesn't make a difference if a park, playground or school is inaccessible in a pragmatic way, if it's within the 1,400 feet, then it's off limits," said Jill Levenson, a Lynn University professor who has researched sex offender issues.

Distance requirements for sexual offenders have been controversial for years, as cities pass new restrictions and effectively zone offenders out of their communities, forcing many to live under bridges or crowd into limited areas.

The state's sexual offender registry shows more than 100 offenders – mostly transients – living within a quarter-mile of the Budget Inn in the 2700 block of North Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale. The registry currently lists six offenders living at the Inn, which had 24 there at one time in 2011.

Levenson said many of those offenders aren't homeless. Instead, they live elsewhere but sleep in the area because residency rules are tied to a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew, she said.

A recent study she worked on shows all but one Broward government has imposed restrictions greater than the state's 1,000-foot minimum, as have 17 Palm Beach County governments. Many go further than Fort Lauderdale, imposing 2,500-foot distances between places where offenders live and children gather.

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