Who wouldn’t want to protect their kids to the utmost when it comes to shielding them from sexual predators? Well, don’t count on the plethora of predator-in-the-park/library/school ordinances that ultra-conservatives in Orange County hastily pasted together to prevent pedophiles and others from coming near your kids. Like a row of dominoes, they are falling by the wayside as the courts find them unconstitutional or unenforceable.
The latest to hit the skids is the Irvine law, known as the Irvine Child Safety Ordinance. Only one person, Jean Pierre Nguyen, has been arrested under the “perv-in-the-park” ordinance and that case was subsequently dismissed by the Superior Court in Santa Ana. Both the Liberal OC and the OC Weekly have written multiple articles on the problem with the Irvine and Orange County ordinances and an email from the County Public Defenders Office to the Weekly detailed the issue saying they filed a demurrer to the complaint against their client charging the ordinance was preempted by state law and that it was unconstitutionally vague and overreaching.
From the Weekly email:
In sum, on November 27, 2012, the Superior Court of Orange County ruled that Irvine’s Child Safety Zone ordinance is void and unenforceable because it is unconstitutional and the subject area (sex offenders) is preempted by State Law. Judge Dickey agreed with all of the legal arguments raised by Mr. Nguyen.
The ruling in the Irvine case comes on the heels of a case heard by the State Appellate Court in Santa Ana on November 15th, in which the Orange County sexual predator ordinance was found to violate the California Constitution’s preemption clause. California law prevents some, but not all, registered sex offenders from entering public parks. The ruling by a three member panel of the court will be sent to the full Appeals Court where it may be reviewed or allowed to stand as-is. In the appellate case, by the way, the defendant, Hugo Godinez, was required to register as a sex offender for a sexual battery offense. He was attending a company “mandatory” Cinco de Mayo party in Mile Square Park and was wearing a GPS tracker at the time.
Even Tustin’s own park-perv law was struck down in September this year. That case involved Randolph Spencer Carr, a registered sex offender from Santa Ana who had a prior rape conviction. Not much is known about the case or the dismissal as the city fathers did not seem to feel there was any danger in their ordinance being dumped. The ordinance, signed by then mayor Jerry Amante was just over a year old when it failed the smell test.
Dan Chmielewski of the OC Lib points out the real problem, with these local ordinances. Stating that Councilman Jeff Lalloway was “disturbed” that an “activist” court should allow cities to govern their own parks, “especially when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable in our society”, he pointed out that Lalloway and OCDA Tony Rackauckus are both lawyers that should have done more homework to make sure their respective ordinances were ironclad. He goes on to point out that, even had the ordinance stood, it would only cover a small number of child sexual predators who actually prey on new victims. In fact, he says, your kids are more at risk being molested by a family member than a stranger in the park.
Even more so, the so-called “child safety zones” are unenforceable. Most are reactive, meaning they don’t prevent anything. Cops can only respond after a child has been molested or, at least, an attempt made. In Nguyen’s case, he went to the Irvine Park to play tennis. The cops were tipped by his probation officer and were waiting for him. His original offense that merited registration was from 1996, although he was convicted earlier in the year of indecent exposure. But, officers receiving a tip (and, why didn’t the probation department move to stop Nguyen to begin with?) is exceptional. How often would that happen? And, even without the ordinance, Nguyen could have been arrested for violating his probation.
Why all the local ordinances in the first place? How about the kudos politicians receive from each other and an unsuspecting public that mistakenly believe these laws will actually protect their kids. It
doesn’t look good for the county sheriff or the district attorney to appear weak on sex offenders. They have little concern that offenders all get lumped into one category. And, while the Public Defenders Office has issued a statement that the appellate case invalidates these ordinances, Rackauckus’ view is that the decision, indeed, only applies to the Godinez case:
I believe that protecting children from sex offenders is one of the highest priorities in law enforcement. We will continue to review cases involving sex offenders in parks as they are presented on a case-by-case basis. We also hope to present our position concerning preemption to the Court of Appeal and receive its decision on this important issue.
Yet, an ordinance that prevents a sex offender from living within 200 feet of a school or that prevents them from entering city parks may look great on paper but it really only drives them out of the immediate area (or underground) and then only if they have a fear of getting caught. The Megan’s Law website is a great tool for both law enforcement and the public but, as a parent, when was the last time you checked it? And, considering the number of exemptions allowed for inclusion in the database, how accurate is it? Carr was listed on the database with a disclaimer that he may have relocated. There is a photo of unknown date but no probation or parole information on him either.
On expertlaw.com, an informational article on Megan’s Law agrees that sex offenders may go underground:
Another concern relates to the fact that Megan’s Laws seem to discourage sex offenders from complying with registration laws. While it is typically a felony offense for a sex offender to fail to register his residence as required by law, at least twenty percent of convicted sex offenders do not comply with the registration requirement.
It also agrees with Chmielewski’s assertion that children are at greater risk of being molested by a family member or friend, not from strangers.
So, where does this leave parents who are desperate to protect their children? While the courts and the politicians try to work through this remember that, even with bulletproof laws, the police have no responsibility to protect the individual, not even your child. You do, however. Ultimately, the responsibility for your child’s safety is supervision by you or someone you trust. In the case of nannies and babysitters, they should be properly vetted. When going to the park or other public venues, nothing replaces direct supervision and a watchful eye. Put away the phone and other distractions while your child plays and be aware of people who don’t seem to belong in the area or who seem to be taking an extraordinary interest in children. Don’t let your fear keep you from calling the police if you have suspicions. In the end, the best protection your children can have is you.