Dallas lacks 'buffer zones' to keep child predators from where kids gather

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by TANYA EISERER

Bio | Email | Follow: @tanyaeiserer

WFAA

Posted on May 2, 2014 at 9:56 PM

Updated Friday, May 2 at 11:30 PM

DALLAS -- They’ve been convicted. They’ve served their time. They are on the sex offender registry. But in Dallas, that doesn’t stop them from being too close for comfort.

In Dallas, no ordinance prevents a child sex predator from living near or even across the street from a school, a park, or even day care, for that matter.

That’s not the case outside of Dallas. News 8 found as many 18 of Dallas County’s 25 cities - as well as cities in Denton, Collin, and Tarrant counties - have imposed regulations on registered sex offenders who have victimized children. Those ordinance create strict buffer zones around places where children “commonly gather.”

Some cities, such as Mansfield and Frisco, apply their ordinance to all registered sex offenders.

“Sex offenders are going to go in the cities without restrictions,” said Courtney Underwood, an advocate for sexual assault victims. “It’s not a law enforcement issue. It’s a city policy issue. We need it in place. We need to have those restrictions, too, so they don’t all come to Dallas, where they can live wherever they want.”

Dallas already has 3,700 registered sex offenders living inside its city limits, with dozens more registering every month. Police insiders say the city’s lax regulation is making it a haven.

Mayor Mike Rawlings told News 8 that he had no idea that Dallas didn’t have any restrictions. He now says he plans to lead the charge to change things, immediately.

“Where kids go to school, there should be a two-block area around those schools,” Rawlings said. “That should be the safest areas in the city, and we’ve got to make sure they are. [...] Sexual predators, that’s not the place they should live.”

The mayor said he will work with the city manager, the police chief, and other city council members to craft an ordinance.

In North Texas, most cities have imposed buffer zones of about 1,000 feet. Some have put in place buffer zones of as much as 2,000 feet, including Balch Springs, Farmers Branch, Richardson, and Grapevine.

News 8 found that the ordinances typically grandfather in registered sex offenders who are already live there, likely because to do otherwise would invite litigation.

Stuart Couch, a licensed sex offender treatment therapist, said all of these restrictions are based on fear and can create more dangerous problem: the issue of sex offenders congregating in certain areas, because they can’t live anywhere else.

He specifically criticized the Grapevine ordinance - passed earlier this year - saying that it created “one essential place where they can live, which means they will be much more likely to be contact with each other.”

He said Dallas would be making a mistake if it followed the pack.

“We certainly wouldn’t want to have them all ending up under the same bridge in South Dallas,” he said. “That would be dangerous."

News 8 checked the Texas Department of Public Safety’s registry and easily found a number of convicted child sex predators living within shouting distance of Dallas elementary schools.

For example, there’s a man convicted of indecency with a nine-year-old girl, a man convicted of raping two seven-year-old boys, and a man convicted of exposing himself to three small children.

None of them are on probation or parole. If they were, then there would be conditions that could have prevented them from living there.

“I didn’t know that someone could live right across the street front the school who has been convicted of a crime like that, and I don’t think it’s right,” said Jackie Cerrillo, who was picking up her brother from a North Dallas elementary school.

One of those three offenders lives near that school.

Click here to see a map of registered sex offenders in Dallas.

“The average pedophile will molest a 117 children in their lifetime, but they’re hard to catch,” Underwood said. “They’re hard to convict. So once we have a sex offender, who has gone to jail, been convicted or whatever of felony sexual assault of a child, we need to protect the rest of our community from them.

“The reality is that they will recommit," Underwood continued. "They will attack other children.”

Sheffie Kadane, the head of the city’s public safety committee, and council member Scott Griggs, both also said that they are open to the idea of imposing residency restrictions on sex offenders.

“When you have a sex offender, it’s probably a good thing for them, also,” Kadane said. “They don’t have that constant reminder of what’s out there if they’re not around a school or sitting near a rec center.”

E-mail teiserer@wfaa.com

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