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Suffolk announces plan to close sex-offender trailers

Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke testifies before

Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke testifies before the public safety subcommittee of the Suffolk County Legislature in Hauppauge. (Jan. 31, 2013) Credit: Ed Betz

Suffolk County police Thursday unveiled a proposal that would intensify monitoring of the county's 1,016 registered sex offenders and close trailers for homeless offenders on the East End by dispersing them to shelters throughout the county.

Chief of Department James Burke told a county legislative committee that police will work with the Social Services department to move the 38 homeless sex offenders now housed in trailers in Riverside and Westhampton into the county shelter system. He said offenders would be transferred to county homeless shelters, with no more than one per facility. The offenders would be housed away from homeless families.

Burke said the plan, which could come before the full legislature by Tuesday, goes beyond relocation of homeless sex offenders.

"Instead of spending our taxpayer dollars on building and staffing facilities for homeless sex offenders, the Suffolk County Police Department recommends we devote resources toward implementing the toughest monitoring and enforcement program in the nation," Burke told legislators.

Police officers would be required to make regular checks on all sex offenders to ensure they haven't registered with false or outdated addresses. Parents for Megan's Law, a nonprofit that works to prevent and treat child sexual abuse, would help with address verification. The group also would provide smartphone applications for residents to report offenders suspected of violating registration rules.

"I've not seen anything like this is in any other jurisdiction across the country," said Parents for Megan's Law executive director Laura Ahearn, noting that most municipalities only make random spot checks to verify sex offender addresses. "This is more proactive."

Public Safety Committee members generally expressed support for the proposal.

Legis. Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma), a former Suffolk police officer, said: "We're going to drive them [sex offenders] out of our neighborhood, out of our community and out of our county."

But Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) noted that many of the roughly 55 shelters where homeless sex offenders could be moved are in low-income communities. "You're going from clustering to potentially having communities bursting . . . at the seams with these sex offenders," he said.

Amol Sinha of the New York Civil Liberties Union's Suffolk chapter warned that police could improperly contact sex offenders who are in compliance with the law.

"It raises questions of whether the county is going to punish people twice, imposing more burdens upon people, beyond the core of the law and beyond the sentence they've already served," Sinha said.

Aides to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone had no estimate of the cost. However, they said it would cost less than a $4 million proposal to build six "mini-shelters" for homeless offenders in industrial parks. Suffolk spends $1.3 million annually on the East End trailers, including transportation for offenders.

"The plan put forward represents the best use of taxpayer dollars to protect communities," said Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider.

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