Falmouth may restrict where sex offenders live

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FALMOUTH — A proposed town ordinance would prohibit people convicted of sex crimes against children under 14 from living near a school, park or athletic field.

Police Chief Edward Tolan proposed the ordinance to the Town Council. It would prevent sex offenders convicted of a Class A, B, or C crimes from establishing a residence within 750 feet of a public or private school or any town-owned property frequented by children, including sports fields and public parks.

“We don’t have anyone living within those restrictions now,” Tolan said. “But if someone tried to move in, (with the proposed ordinance) we would be able to say no.”

Tolan said he wasn’t prompted to introduce the ordinance by anyone attempting to move to town, but that he wanted the Police Department to be able to enforce a residency restriction if it becomes necessary.

“It’s a good restriction, but years ago, towns were going overboard, saying sex offenders couldn’t live within five miles of a school,” he said. “So that way, they couldn’t live in the town at all.”

A state law, passed in 2009, allows towns to restrict where sex offenders can live, but only within certain criteria. Towns can only limit residency, and cannot impose fees or require registrations. The maximum distance allowed under the law is 750 feet and towns cannot force those who already live within that distance to leave the area when an ordinance is passed.

The town lists 28 public parks on its website, although it is unclear which of these parks would be included under the proposed ordinance’s definition of “property where children are the primary users, including, without limitation, playgrounds and athletic fields.”

“It’s not just open space, because adults use that as well,” Tolan said.

He said police would focus on people living near the school campus, day-care centers and the town’s sports fields.

Anyone who failed to register as a sex offender with the town, and moved into a home within the restricted areas, would be charged a $500 per day fine.

City-data.com lists only two sex offenders living in Falmouth, one on Gray Road, the other on Ledgewood Drive. The Maine Sex Offender Registry reveals a third offender in Falmouth, but the crime for which he was convicted – possession of child pornography – would not have qualified him for restrictions under the proposed ordinance.

The towns of Buxton and Sebago both have ordinances restricting residency for sex offenders, but the cities of Bangor and Portland have both failed to approve similarly proposed ordinances. The Maine Civil Liberties Union opposed the proposed ordinance in Portland, and the city’s Public Safety Committee rejected the measure last year.

Some Falmouth town councilors have indicated they would support the chief’s proposal.

“I would most likely support this (sex offender) ordinance to protect our children,” Councilor Bonny Rodden said prior to Wednesday’s council meeting, where the proposal was scheduled to be introduced.

Councilor Fred Chase said he has no sympathy for sex offenders, and that, if a residency restriction is all the council can do, he would support it.

 Councilor Chris Orestis also said he is in favor of setting the restrictions.

“The police chief would have my support 100 percent on that,” he said.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.