County Council to explore increased residence distance requirements for sexual offenders, predators

The state mandates that no sex offender or predator reside within 1,000 feet of any of these places; a possible Volusia County ordinance could increase that to 1,500 feet.

Photo courtesy of anamejia18/Adobe Stock
Photo courtesy of anamejia18/Adobe Stock
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Should Volusia County ban adults unaccompanied by children from entering county playgrounds? 

On Tuesday, June 20, the Volusia County Council discussed changing playground regulations in unincorporated areas and increasing the distance requirement that buffers schools, child care facilities, parks or playgrounds from areas where sex offenders or predators are allowed to live.

The state mandates that no sex offender or predator reside within 1,000 feet of any of these places; a proposed Volusia County ordinance could increase that to 1,500 feet.

County Councilman Danny Robins asked the county to pursue such an ordinance at the April 4 council meeting. 

Some members of the council, though, were concerned about "unintended consequences."

"In my opinion, the state has already implemented pretty severe sanctions," County Councilman Don Dempsey said at the June 20 meeting.

Dempsey, a criminal law attorney and former prosecutor, said he's seen many people go to prison for violating the existing distance requirement because they unknowingly live within 1,000 feet of a park or violate one of the other restrictions. He also said there are "grey areas" where people make a plea bargain not because they're guilty, but because they don't want to risk going to trial and facing life in prison.

"I don't know what the rationale would be of a 1,000 (feet) versus 1,500, other than just being politically correct, being tough on crime and just pound these people," Dempsey said. "I get it, but there's a lot of people who I think are caught in the net and they end up getting severe sanctions for little stuff like this."

If the county were to enact the ordinance, Dempsey continued, all of the men up on the dais alongside him would be banned from going to a playground. The county would be criminalizing an adult who wanted to sit on a swing set, he said. 

Robins argued that the ordinance was meant "to keep the creeps away from our children." 

"Public safety is a priority, especially when it comes to our children," Robins said. "... A lot of these people may never get caught for years, or even identified. So this is an additional layer to make that contact, or ring some bells in the community."

The ordinance was a "no-brainer" for him, he said. He didn't see why an adult would be loitering in a playground without a child. 

Dempsey said that, while the ordinance may sound good, he didn't think he'd ever dealt with a case where a child was abducted from a playground and molested. He was also concerned with how the proposed ordinance could impact housing and place a burden on landlords.

Councilman Jake Johansson agreed with Dempsey, saying the county can't protect "everybody from everything."

"It's something that can happen on a playground; it can happen in a museum," Johansson said. "We let 4-year-olds get off the bus and walk two blocks to their house — it can happen there. So are we going to have county School Board people hired to escort these kids home once they come off the bus?"

After Councilman Troy Kent withdrew his second to Robin's motion to pursue an ordinance with increased distance requirements and a playground ban for adults, Robins amended his motion to include only the distance requirement, asking staff members to bring the council more information, including a map showing where all county parks are located in relation to the homes of registered sexual offenders and predators.

Volusia County maintains 23 playgrounds.


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