Town works on sex offender policy
By David Delcore
Staff Writer | September 01,2014
BARRE TOWN — The policy is still a work in progress, but the Select Board remains interested in alerting residents when at least some sex offenders move into their midst.
Precisely when that would happen and in which cases remains an open question, and Police Chief Michael Stevens told the board the town would be breaking new ground with the notification policy that he has been asked to produce.
Though the draft policy presented for the board’s review this week doesn’t go as far as some East Barre residents who recently raised the issue would like, Stevens said his research suggests it would be the first of its kind in the country.
“There is no policy like this in the United States that I can find,” Stevens said. “Whether we trample on anyone’s constitutional rights remains to be seen. … We probably will.”
Board Chairman Jeff Blow said the town is going to try very hard not to by threading the needle between what he characterized as the neighbors’ right to know and the privacy rights of those convicted of sex offenses.
“Civil liberties are in play here, and we have to be very careful not to put us and the town at risk,” Blow said. “It’s a very delicate balance.”
The policy Stevens drafted does not suggest the town would be obliged to do as some East Barre residents recently asked. Their call for a blanket neighborhood notification when a registered sex offender moves into town — including information that can’t be found on the state’s sex offender registry — was deemed excessive.
However, the draft policy does contemplate automatic notification in some instances, though Town Manager Carl Rogers said the information would be limited to what is already available on the state registry that is maintained by the Vermont Crime Information Council.
“We’re not making up new information,” he said. “We’re just telling people what they can already find on their own.”
Rogers said that information does not include the details of offenders’ crimes or their street addresses.
According to Stevens, it can’t. “We have to be careful what we give out for information,” he said.
One threshold question the board has yet to answer is whether the policy will apply to all registered sex offenders, only those considered high-risk, or a mix of high-risk offenders and those convicted of specific crimes.
The board seemed comfortable with the suggestion that high-risk offenders, as well as anyone convicted of a sexual crime involving a victim younger than 16 years old, should trigger neighborhood notification.
That notification would presumably occur as soon as the Police Department learns a sex offender has moved into the community, though Stevens said door-to-door outreach could be time-consuming and mailings might be missed.
According to Stevens, another key question is how to determine who gets notified.
“We have to define what the ‘neighborhood’ is going to be,” he said.
For the purposes of discussion, Rogers suggested anyone who lives within a 1,250-foot radius of the sex offender’s residence might be reasonable. He said the town’s mapping software would allow the department to easily identify the properties where notification would be required while giving police the discretion to expand the boundary if they deemed it prudent.
The board tentatively agreed with that suggestion and instructed Rogers and Stevens to modify the draft policy to reflect their discussion and to consult the East Barre residents who raised the issue in the first place.
Rogers said those conversations will occur before the draft policy is brought back before the board. He said the town’s attorney, Michael Monte, will also be asked to review the document.
The neighborhood notification is the most proactive and potentially problematic portion of a proposed policy that also suggests several more passive ways to get information to residents. Those include posting fliers at the police station and on the town’s website along with a link to the online sex offender registry. It also indicates media outreach might be prudent in some cases, as would informal community meetings.