Monday, March 17, 2008

Derry to introduce sex offender ordinance

By Margo Sullivan
Staff writer

DERRY — The town may follow Dover and a handful of other New Hampshire communities that ban registered sex offenders from living near schools and playgrounds.

A plan to restrict where sex offenders can live is still very much alive, Councilor Kevin Coyle said at last night's Town Council meeting, although no one specifically mentioned where it stands.

The lack of sex offender housing restrictions in town became a heated issue after convicted child murderer Douglas Simmons briefly moved to an apartment two doors away from the Derry Montessori School in January.

Although Simmons registered with police as required, parents were outraged to find no law on the books to stop him from living near a school. Simmons, who in 1981 murdered a 6-year-old girl in Connecticut, moved out of Derry.

Twenty states have laws to stop registered sex offenders from living near schools and playgrounds, New Hampshire doesn't. Five communities — Dover, Boscawen, Franklin, Northfield and Tilton — have adopted their own ordinances.

Coyle said a proposed ordinance will be introduced, possibly at the next council meeting in two weeks. The Derry ordinance is modeled after Dover's, which bans registered sex offenders from residing within 2,500 feet of a school, park or playground.

Coyle said although he cannot predict if the Town Council will approve housing restrictions, he was not willing to do nothing, even in the face of arguments that the local ordinances are counterproductive.

Last night, councilors heard a brief argument against the housing restrictions from Amanda Grady, spokeswoman for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. Grady said the housing laws are well-intended but sometimes result in sex offenders failing to register.

New Hampshire has 2,200 registered sex offenders, according to state Trooper Jill Rockey. But, about one-third did not commit crimes against children, so their names are not on the public list, she said.

Rockey said people are often unaware the New Hampshire public list only names sex offenders who committed crimes against children. A sex offender convicted of raping a 36-year-old woman would have to register for life with the state, but his name would not be on the public list.

However, New Hampshire lawmakers are considering adding the names of serial rapists and other multiple sex offenders to the public list, she said.

Rockey, in charge of the New Hampshire registry for sex offenders who committed crimes against children, described efforts in Concord to strengthen current laws to protect the public against sex offenders.

"We do have good laws right now," Rockey said.

The new measures would close loopholes, she added. For example, the laws would put convicted murderers on the public list if the crime involved a sexual offense.

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