Sunday, October 1, 2006

He Said What?

"You know, they are opposed to it because they have to work harder, but their job is to protect and serve..." That's what Rep. Allen Freeman had to say about the opposition some law enforcement officials have expressed to the sex offender bill that was passed last year. Freeman made this statement when he and his opponent, Lauren Benedict, were being interviewed by Randall Savage. The show, 13 WMAZ Close Up, aired on Saturday.

Freeman said that he made no apologies for the bill and that he was in fact the second signer and a sponsor. All I can say is that he either hasn't been paying attention or is simply ignoring the serious public safety problems posed by this law. Here's what DeKalb Sheriff Thomas Brown (who I met on Friday, and who does not strike me as soft on any crime) had to say in a recent Creative Loafing article:

As DeKalb County Sheriff, Thomas Brown relentlessly attacks the new law at
public gatherings and in the press, he doesn't seem a bit worried about
beinglabeled soft on sex offenders.

"I have a responsibility to tell people in DeKalb when I can't protect them, and this law would have that effect," Brown says.
"This law is
nothing but election-year politicking by the Republicans."

Brown says his office has carefully mapped thousands of DeKalb school bus stops
and determined that there's nowhere within the county for its 490 registered sex
offenders to live. But he notes that it's unrealistic to imagine that all
offenders will simply pack up and leave -- or that the county could keep tabs on the ones who don't.

"This bill will force people to go underground, and not because they're dangerous sexual predators," but because they have no place else to go, Brown says. "I have one man who's 88 years old, living in an apartment building near a bus stop."

The county already has warrants out for 90 sex offenders who neglected to show
up for registration, and is home to an estimated 44 "absconders," those who
have violated parole and gone into hiding.

"We're not whining about our responsibility," Brown says. "We're saying, don't
pass laws that are unenforceable."

Brown may be more outspoken than most law enforcement officials, but he isn't
alone in his frustration. Many of the state's 159 county sheriffs have been scrambling to figure out how toenforce the new law, says Terry Norris of the
Georgia Sheriffs' Association.

Although the association has taken no official position on the law, the sheriffs forcefully lobbied Keen and other legislators to remove the bus stop provision, arguing that it represented an arbitrary standard. In many rural school systems,
a bus stop is, well, wherever the bus stops. And because even officially
sanctioned bus stops often change from onesemester to the next, offenders could be constantly on the move.

"It wasn't as if they didn't listen to us," Norris says of the lawmakers. "It didn't
matter what we said, they just didn't agree."

Aspects of this law were very poorly conceived, and legislators were given fair warning of the problems by experts in the field. But common sense and reason had no place at the table in an election year, and the public, and in particular our children, are less safe as a result. It's not that they don't want to work hard, Rep. Freeman. It's that what makes a great soundbite is often poor public policy.

1 comment:

Tina said...

We have got people in Atlanta who are introducing legislation that is not well thought out in terms of actual application. They didn't foresee all the legal and logistical problems w/regard to the voter ID issue, for example.