One day after the Jan. 1 deadline that Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone set to have two controversial homeless sex offender trailers shuttered in Riverside and Westhampton, Bellone has pitched a plan that he said will close the facilities permanently.
The facilities remain open as of Jan. 2.
In a statement put out Wednesday, Bellone said that, in the wake of court rulings throughout New York State against local residency restriction laws, he has directed the Suffolk County Police Department to develop a comprehensive approach to better protect communities from sex offenders.
According to Bellone, under his direction, Suffolk police will work with other agencies of county government, advocacy organizations and mental health experts to review existing county laws and procedures to determine how to strengthen the county's approach to dealing with sex offenders.
Bellone has asked the county police department to return a plan that can be submitted to the Legislature by the end of January.
A new approach is necessary, Bellone said, because current laws intended to protect communities from sex offenders are being successfully challenged in jurisdictions across New York.
There are more than 1,000 registered sex offenders throughout Suffolk County, he said. But, Bellone added, county policy has been disproportionately focused on approximately 40 sex offenders — or four percent of the total — who are homeless. Suffolk County is obligated under New York State law to pay for the housing of the homeless, including homeless registered sex offenders, he said; the new policy will increase monitoring and dedicate resources to 100 percent of Suffolk County's more than 1,000 registered sex offenders, Bellone said.
"I am directing the Suffolk County Police Department to make sure we are staying one step ahead to protect our families," Bellone said. “We will develop the most stringent monitoring and enforcement program in the nation.”
Parents for Megan’s Law Executive Director Laura Ahearn agreed with Bellone that there needs to be a heightened effort to monitor registered sex offenders.
“I applaud County Executive Bellone for his recognition of the need for, and commitment to, developing a comprehensive and proactive plan concerning registered sex offenders in Suffolk County,” Ahearn said. "Implementing sound policies, supported by necessary resources to insure compliance, are essential to protecting our children and our families.”
Bellone said the new approach will end the county's current policy of congregating multiple homeless sex offenders in fixed trailers but did not elaborate on details on where the sex offenders will be housed.
For years, the Riverside and Southampton Town communities have railed against what they believe are unfair burdens placed on individual communities most visibly in the sex offender trailers located in Riverside and Westhampton.
Last year, Bellone vowed at a press conference to have the two trailers closed by Jan. 1. Last month, local elected officials urged him to keep that promise. Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman said last month that if the trailers were not closed by Jan. 1, he would organize a large community meeting in Riverhead and ask that Bellone come speak directly to community members about why. Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said if the promise to close the trailers was not kept by Bellone, litigation could commence.
Neither Schneiderman, Throne-Holst, nor Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter, all of whom have advocated to get the trailers closed, were immediately available for comment Wednesday morning.
How do you feel about Bellone's new plan? How do you feel about two homeless sex offender trailers remaining open after the promised Jan. 1 deadline? Let us know in the comments section.