Dallas to consider restrictions on child sex predators

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DALLAS — If Mayor Mike Rawlings gets his way, the city of Dallas will soon have an ordinance restricting where child sex predators can live in the city limits.

The mayor vowed to take action after learning from News 8 in May that Dallas did not have an ordinance preventing child sex predators from living near or even across the street from a school, a park, or a day care center. And he’s followed through.

“Where kids go to school, there should be a two-block area around those schools. That should be the safest areas in the city,” the mayor told News 8 at the time. “Sexual predators, that’s not the place they should live.”

At the mayor’s direction, the city attorney’s office and Dallas Police Department have put together a 39-page “Sex Offender Residency Restriction Ordinance” briefing. The full city council will be briefed on Wednesday.

They’ll learn:

Dallas has 3,364 sex offenders. Of those, 1,763 were convicted of offenses involving children — and they can live anywhere they want. They aren’t on probation or parole.

Another 993 offenders who were convicted of offenses involving children are under restrictions imposed by state law because they are still on probation or parole. So-called “child safety zones” typically impose a 1,000-foot buffer zone from places where children commonly gather, such as schools, day cares, and playgrounds.

A News 8 review 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.

Many North Texas cities have imposed buffer zones of about 1,000 feet. Some are as high as 2,000 feet. 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.

“The issue is that all of the cities surrounding Dallas, for the most part, have these buffer zones, so we’re seeing sex offenders flood into the city of Dallas because we have no restrictions,” said Courtney Underwood, a sexual assault victim advocate. “People just don’t know that once an offender is off parole or off probation, they’re not covered any more by the state restrictions. They can live next to schools. They can live next to parks, and it’s just sort of an unnecessary risk to be taking.”

Underwood supports imposing a 1,500-foot buffer zone.

“It’s not [that] we’re trying to create something that precludes sex offenders from being able to live with the city of Dallas boundaries,” Underwood said. “It’s just we want to say, ‘These are probably not the best areas for you to be living in.’”

City leaders have not indicated what size buffer zone Dallas should adopt, but the council briefing recommends passing an ordinance that prohibit registered sex offenders whose offenses involved children from living near places where kids “commonly gather,” such as schools, playgrounds and day cares.

They are also recommending an exception for those who meet the following conditions: they only have once offense on their record, the victim was between 14 and 17, the victim was a willing participant, and the sex offender is not more than four years older than the victim.

The mayor has done his part and Dallas police are backing the effort. Now it’s in the council’s hands.