BUZZ Blog: Responding to councilor criticisms on the sex offender story
Peter Passi and Brandon Stahl cover issues related to the city of Duluth. Follow BUZZ on Twitter.
Allow me to retort
City councilors Sharla Gardner and Kerry Gauthier called me out during the Thursday night council meeting, voicing their displeasure with the sex offender story. Gauthier specifically didn't like the lede of the story, which said that sex offenders might take up residence on the lift bridge, while Gardner felt the article "blatantly mischaracterized" the intent of the ordinance.
I obviously would not and could not respond during a council meeting, so I'll respond here. First, the lede was written a bit tongue in cheek, with the underlying point being this: if this ordinance passes, Level 3 offenders would be all-but banned from the city of Duluth. But as I wrote in the previous blog post: I sort of have no problem with this. It would ban these offenders from my neighborhood, something I'd welcome, even though my thinking on it isn't at all rational (more on that in a second).
The councilors, I think, argued during the meeting that banning the offenders wasn't the point of the ordinance, that it's to protect children in our community. It may well do that, but be honest about how it's going to do it: it's going to essentially kick Level 3 offenders out of Duluth. They won't be able to afford to live in any of the areas that aren't within 2,000 feet of a school, playground or daycare. There's a bit of Congdon open that appears on the map -- but I think the offenders have a better chance of taking up residence on the Lift Bridge than in Congdon.
Gardner seemed to indicate that I didn't write about the exemptions, but I did. Offenders who currently reside within 2,000 feet of the aforementioned locations can stay there, as can offenders currently living in a DOC-owned house in Lincoln Park. She seemed to indicate during the council meeting that she felt I misquoted her as to what she felt was the intent of the ordinance. I quoted her as saying that she felt the ordinance would protect the community, which she reiterated during the council meeting, and that it's about encouraging the DOC to look elsewhere when placing Level 3s who did not previously live in Duluth.
"It’s too easy to place people in Duluth because there aren’t restrictions," she said. "This is about the future; it won’t disturb what’s already in place. I don’t think it will do harm and will ultimately protect our community."
If I misquoted you, councilor Gardner, I apologize. But based on what you said Thursday night, I believe I captured your argument.
If the councilors are unhappy that the article focused on the consequences of the ordinance -- that it will kick them out of Duluth -- well, just be honest about it. That's what I was doing in my story. Why beat around the bush on this anyway? People support you on this. I don't think the majority of city residents oppose the idea of preventing Level 3 predators from moving into Duluth. I know I don't oppose it.
But ... based on more research I did whilst the council was debating, I think it may well make things worse, if the object is to protect the community and increase public safety.
The state of Iowa passed a law preventing predatory offenders from living within 2,000 feet of any playground, school and daycare, and according to a 2006 New York Times article, the state lived to regret it.
"A new state law barring those convicted of sex crimes involving children from living within 2,000 feet of a school or day care center has brought unintended and disturbing consequences. It has rendered some offenders homeless and left others sleeping in cars or in the cabs of their trucks.... And the authorities say that many have simply vanished from their sight, with nearly three times as many registered sex offenders considered missing since before the law took effect in September."
In other words: law enforcement lost track of the offenders. And what did a state of Minnesota study show is the best way to reduce recidivism? It was to keep track of the offenders. The Iowa County Attorney's Association, which was initially supportive of the 2,000 foot rule, changed course and came out against it. A 2007 USA Today story found that many states that put in 2,000-foot-rules or something similar went to loosen up the restrictions because the offenders were "going underground."
A 2008 Pittsburgh Post-Gazzette story reports that studies (including Minnesota's) found the laws "ineffective"
So, there's a lot of evidence out there to suggest that what's being proposed won't work. And yet, let's say a Level 3 offender wanted to move into an apartment building across the street from my home. Would I be thankful for the ordinance being proposed by Gardner, Gauthier and Dan Hartman?
Yes, yes I would be.
Like I said: I know it's not rational. Let's just say that's never been one of my virtues. But cutting through spin and being to the point? Guilty.