Suffolk officials say they hope to begin moving homeless sex offenders out of trailers on the East End within several weeks, the first indication of progress in implementing an emergency monitoring plan passed nearly four months ago.
The Community Protection Act, drafted by County Executive Steve Bellone and approved unanimously by the county legislature Feb. 5, called for relocating about 40 homeless male sex offenders now living in the trailers to shelters around Suffolk.
Bellone argued for emergency approval of the law -- bypassing legislative committees and traditional public hearings -- because he said it was urgent to start treating all 1,016 county sex offenders equally, instead of devoting the majority of time and money to the 4 percent who are homeless.
By Tuesday, the county had not closed the trailers. Though the administration never set a date for relocating the offenders, Suffolk Police Chief of Department James Burke said Tuesday police are meeting daily with social services officials, and "we should have movement in the coming weeks" regarding the offenders.
Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), who represents Riverside and Westhampton, where the trailers are located, said administration officials have told him repeatedly they will close the trailers by Memorial Day.
"That's what I keep being told," Schneiderman said. "If they say, 'We need more time,' that would raise red flags."
Local residents have objected to the East End trailers for years, and Bellone pledged last May to close them by the end of 2012, only to miss the late-December deadline. Soon afterward, he introduced the emergency legislation.
Newsday reported in March that Suffolk didn't have enough shelters for single males to comply with the new law.
Administration officials say they are expecting a state appellate court decision that could strike down Nassau County's sex offender residency restrictions. If that happens, Suffolk expects a federal judge considering a challenge to its residency limitations to follow suit.
Suffolk also has the authority to move homeless sex offenders convicted of less serious crimes to locations that comply with looser state restrictions, which require registered sex offenders on parole or probation to live at least 1,000 feet from schools and parks. Suffolk restricts all sex offenders from living less than 1,320 feet from schools, parks and day care centers.
"It'd be foolish on Bellone's part if he didn't apply that loophole he put in there in the first place," Bill O'Leary, a forensic therapist who works with sex offenders and abuse victims, said of how Suffolk could act independent of court decisions.Key Suffolk lawmakers said the administration has shared little information about when it would fully implement the law.
"They've been very tight-lipped," said Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville), chairman of the legislature's human services committee. "I thought this would go a lot quicker."
"There's really been no communication with me regarding what they're doing," Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), public safety committee chairwoman, said of the administration. "Where is the housing? Do they have the housing to do all of this? I still don't know."
The Community Protection Act also authorized police to pay a nonprofit organization up to $2.7 million over three years to better monitor all registered sex offenders. On May 1, the county completed its contract with Parents for Megan's Law, a nonprofit that will assist police in verifying offender addresses.
Laura Ahearn, executive director of the nonprofit, said she has started putting new staff in place as part of the deal and is developing new technology, such as a smartphone application, for residients to report suspected registration violations.
"We've moved very quickly," Ahearn said. "We predict we'll be fully operational by the beginning of June."