Build a Park, Banish Sex Offenders but State Laws Limiting Predators' Housing Could Lead to Homelessness, Rise in Crime

Article excerpt

LOS ANGELES -- Parents who pick up their children at the bus stop in this city's Harbor Gateway neighborhood say they often see men wearing GPS ankle bracelets and tell their children to stay away. Just up the street, 30 paroled sex offenders live in a single apartment building, including rapists and child molesters. More than 100 registered sex offenders live within a few miles.

So local residents and city official developed a plan to force convicted sex offenders to leave their neighborhood: open a tiny park.

Parents in Los Angeles, where state law prohibits registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or a public park, are not the only ones seizing on this approach. From the metropolis of Miami to the small town of Sapulpa, Okla., communities are building pocket parks, sometimes so small that they have barely enough room for a swing set, to drive out sex offenders. One playground installation company in Houston has even advertised its services to homeowners associations as an option for keeping sex offenders away.

Within the next several months, one of Los Angeles' smallest parks will open in Harbor Gateway, on a patch of grass less than 1,000 square feet at a corner of a busy intersection. But even if no child ever uses its jungle gym, the park will serve its intended purpose.

"Regardless of whether it's the largest park or the smallest, we're putting in a park to send a message that we don't want a high concentration of sex offenders in this community," said Joe Buscaino, a former Los Angeles police officer who now represents the area on the City Council.

While the pocket parks springing up around the country offer a sense of security to residents, they will probably leave more convicted sex offenders homeless. And research shows that once sex offenders lose stable housing, they become not only harder to track but also more likely to commit another crime, according to state officials involved with managing such offenders. …