If Stephenville City Council member Mark Murphy had his way, registered sex offenders would be forced to live outside the city limits.
To others, such as city policeman Sha King, it doesn’t make sense to force such sex offenders out of the city, away from the consistent monitoring of police, and potentially “underground.”
“As far as running them underground, then let’s run them underground,” Murphy said last week as the council debated a proposal to prohibit registered sex offenders from living near places where children frequent, such as such as schools, child care centers, and public parks.
“That’s where they should be,” Murphy said.
The council began looking into the issue after council member Nancy Hunter suggested that an ordinance be passed to prohibit registered sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of places where children normally congregate.
“If we can do anything to protect our kids, then let’s do it,” Hunter said.
As a result, Police Chief Roy Halsell said his department looked at ordinances in 14 other cities before drafting a proposed ordinance that suggested a 1,000-foot restriction.
The council’s Public Health and Safety Committee discussed the Police Department’s recommended ordinance last week.
“The current law only affects sex offenders that are under supervision - parole or probation,” King said. “It is set by the judge and usually is 1,000 feet. (It) can be more. Sex offenders cannot live within 1,000 feet of places where children normally congregate.
“The (proposed city) ordinance would place the same residential restrictions on sex offenders that are not under supervision … (and) would make (violating the ordinance) a class C misdemeanor.”
Halsell said the proposed ordinance deals with registered sex offenders who got in trouble for their involvement with children who were age 16 or younger at the time of the offense.
As part of last week’s discussion, city council members received a map that showed where registered sex offenders could live under a 1,000-foot restriction (shown in red) and a 2,500-foot restriction (shown in green).
“The green pretty much takes in the city of Stephenville,” council member Pat Shelbourne said, after looking at the map.
“I just wonder if 2,500 (feet) is enough,” Murphy asked. “Why not 5,000 feet? … I think 2,500 (feet) is a minimum, and I’d like to see it more.”
During the meeting, Murphy even made a motion to extend the zone to 5,000 feet.
It failed for a lack of a second and with adamant opposition from council members Alan Nash and Todd McEvoy.
Nash said any proposal setting restrictions of more than 1,000 feet isn’t a good idea, “other than sounding good” and being “cool to take a Bill O’Reilly stand.”
Nash said the initial 2,500-foot proposal had “no rational basis.”
“And we think this law is going to frighten them?” Nash said.
He said he wasn’t defending sex offenders, noting that if the newspaper said he favored sex offenders in the newspaper, he would sue for slander or libel.
McEvoy said the “safety zone” is “creating an illusion of safety.”
“I think a 40-year-old with a 4-year-old should be fried,” McEvoy said.
However, McEvoy said, such an ordinance would do nothing to stop a sexual offender from “coming from Morgan Mill and staring at them (Stephenville children).”
“Everything over 1,000 feet is politics,” McEvoy said.
McEvoy said the proposal is “ridiculous” and only a way to get headlines.
“We need to be a city that’s actually going to change something,” McEvoy said.
“Let’s do something to scare them,” McEvoy said, such as prohibiting them from being in places such as City Park.
“I would rather Sha (King) know where every one of them is,” McEvoy said.
Meanwhile, King said he believes extending the sex offender zone to 2,500 feet or further would “reduce by effectiveness of keeping up with them.”
King, who researched the matter for the police department, said he believed the 1,000-foot zone is the “best way to go.”
The council’s Public Health and Safety Committee made no recommendation last week. It plans to return to discuss the matter in the future.
DOUG MYERS is Managing Editor of the Empire-Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 965-3124, ext. 229.