By The TimesLedger
Residents at a Bay Terrace high rise were shocked last month to discover that a recently paroled sex offender was living in their building. The man was sentenced to three years in jail for sexually abusing two boys 8 and 5. There is no one, not even the state Division of Parole, that will argue that he is not dangerous.
The circumstances demonstrate a fatal weakness in the state’s Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA) and the so-called Megan’s Law. The parolee is listed as a high-risk offender on the state’s Sex Offender Registry but none of the co-op owners knew he lived there until one of the residents saw the man’s picture hanging on a wall at her dentist’s office. When they heard the news, the co-op owners were outraged and rightfully so. There are at least 75 children living in the co-op. Imagine one of these children getting into an elevator with this man.
The problem with the Sex Offender Registration Act is that it puts the burden of discovery on the public. If you suspect or learn that a person is a sex offender, you can go to the state’s sex offender web site or dial a toll number to confirm your suspicions. But the law does not require community notification when a sex offender is moving in. And thus it was only by accident that the Bay Terrace residents learned that there was a dangerous pedophile in their midst.
Ask anyone in the criminal justice system and they will tell you that sex offenders, especially pedophiles, are extremely difficult to rehabilitate. At the present time there is no proven treatment for pedophilia. The best that society can do is limiting the pedophiles access to children. For that reason, convicted pedophiles are not permitted to work at a job where they come into contact with children. In most cases convicted sex offenders cannot live in a house with children, they can’t live near a school or playground and they can’t coach children’s sports or run a scout troop.
But all of those safeguards become meaningless if the public doesn’t know that the guy next door has a history of sexually assaulting children. Clearly the co-op board should have been notified before the parolee was allowed to move in.
As long as the chances for rehabilitating the sex offender remain slim, society has a legitimate interest in making certain they don’t get the opportunity to offend again.
City Councilman Allan Jennings (D-Jamaica) has a lot of explaining to do. The controversial councilman has established a reputation of being a maverick ready to take on City Hall and the Queens Democratic Organization. His re-election last November showed that he has strong support among his constituents. He has endured, but the latest scandal could destroy his political career.
Jennings is under attack from two former female aides who claim he forced them to clean his house on city time and made crude sexual jokes. In published reports, the unnamed aides said he had a double standard when it came to women on his staff and routinely required women staffers to answer phone, no matter their position. One woman charged that the councilman fired her after she rejected his romantic overtures.
Jennings has survived several controversies including last year when he took out half-page ads in Chinese-language newspapers proclaiming his appreciation for the Chinese community and his affection for two Asian women.
The ads were more than a little loony and they became fodder for his political opponents. But until now the scandals didn’t involve actions that were potentially criminal. Things are different his time. If even a portion of these accusations are proven to be credible, then Jennings should prepare to fall on his political sword.
It could be that the councilman is getting set up by his political opponents of which there are many. But it could also be that Jennings is a man with little common sense and even less self control.
Council Speaker Gifford Miller apparently knew about the accusations for months and did nothing. Jennings himself has been uncharacteristically quiet. If it turns out that there is credible evidence that he was abusive to women, then the Council has no choice but to ask Jennings to step down.
We are cautiously optimistic about the mayor’s plan to make school safety a priority of his administration. The plan includes the singling out of a dozen schools where violence has been a persistent problem. The plan will bolster security at the problem schools and will call for swift and stiff punishment for offenders. A three-strike policy will force the expulsion of repeat offenders.
Queens will no doubt have its share of “impact schools.” Teachers and principals will welcome getting rid of problem students who disrupt classes and threaten students and teachers. But, as far as we can tell, the plan does not address the danger of walking to and from the impact schools. With the dawn of magnetometers, much of the violence that once took place inside the school moved to the surrounding neighborhood. The agencies that form the school safety team should define a broad zone around the problem schools that will protect both students and neighbors.
Finally, although there is little sympathy for the “troublemakers,” the plan should make sure that an effort is made to rescue even the most difficult student. These too are some mother’s son or daughter. Giving up to early on any child would be a tragic mistake.
The progress that the city has made in the war on crime came largely from paying attention to the little things. Mayor Giuliani made his mark by applying the “Broken Windows” theory that holds that if you little problems go unattended they set the stage for larger problems.
In Maspeth and Middle Village the new broken windows is just that – broken glass. Vandals with more time than brains have been on a rampage breaking the glass at a number of bus shelters. Although no one was injured, the broken glass sends the message that criminals control the neighborhood. Although it may seem little more than a nuisance, the city cannot allow this vandalism to continue.
There aren't that many shelters. It shouldn't be that hard to set up police surveillance that would lead to the arrest of the vandals. Requiring these idiots to pay for the damage in addition to community service would take the fun out of this crime.
In the meantime, Viacom Outdoor, Inc., the company that owns the shelters, should consider replacing the glass with Plexiglas or some other unbreakable material.