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October 12, 2012

Council: Bar sex offenders in parks

Peabody: Board votes for public hearing on mayor's ordinance

Under the watchful eyes of more than two dozen anxious parents, Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt last night introduced a new ordinance designed to restrict dangerous sex offenders from areas likely to draw children.

It drew quick approval from the City Council, which voted unanimously to advertise a public hearing, the first step to formally adopting the measure.

Yet, even while members stressed the importance of quick action to protect children, there was concern over the survival of any law in court. Stressing an eagerness to pass the ordinance, Councilor Anne Manning-Martin noted, “If we pass it — we have to make it stick.”

Bettencourt said he proposed the restriction after hearing of a “disturbing” incident last June at a city park.

Resident Jessica O’Hara gave an account, telling how a number of parents noticed two men, Level 3 sex offenders, looking for bottles and cans while children played nearby.

“We followed them at a safe distance,” she said, “to make sure the two men left alone. ... At that point, they turned and yelled a few comments.”

A call to police did little to relieve the parents.

“The police said there was nothing they could do,” O’Hara said. She went home and began investigating, learning that Level 3 sex offenders are considered the most dangerous.

She and others began reaching out to city officials. The mayor and the school board were contacted.

Bettencourt said he was surprised to learn that Massachusetts has no laws restricting the activities of dangerous sex offenders, though two dozen states have enacted measures barring them from “child safety zones.” About 40 cities and towns in the commonwealth have passed restrictions on their own.

The ordinance proposed last night, the mayor said, is based on one adopted in New Bedford in 2008. Lynn has also voted for child safety zones.

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