Friday, June 19, 2009

NIJ conference

The National Institute of Justice is the research arm of the United States Department of Justice. I was at their annual conference earlier this week, at their expense, to participate as a panelist during a presentation focusing on the consequences of sex offender residency restriction laws. This is a topic that has appeared in the Chief’s Corner on several previous occasions. This is another example of the use of GIS to inform public policy.

The conference is attended mainly by academicians, with a few practitioners like me interspersed here and there. My specific role on the panel was to serve as a discussant—sort of a friendly critic, as my colleague and former Charlotte police chief Darrel Stephens put it. Earlier this year, I authored a paper for an academic journal, Crime and Justice Policy Review. The focus of my paper was how research in this field could more effectively influence public policy, and this was the same theme as my panel presentation.

In a nutshell, the research shows that residency restrictions don’t impact reoffending and that these laws have the side effect of destabilizing offenders; making it more difficult for them to find employment, obtain housing, preserve family relationships, and participate in aftercare or treatment. With a restriction that seriously reduces housing availability, there is a greater likelihood multiple offenders will live together or in very close proximity to one another, will lie about their place of residence, or will just drop off the radar altogether by not reporting their address changes as required by law. These unintended consequences, in my opinion, actually increase the risk of reoffending, rather than decreasing it.

My critique is centered on the fact that we have not done a good job in translating the research into practice. Despite this knowledge, city councils and state legislatures have scrambled to enact increasingly strict laws that prohibit sex offenders from living near schools, child care centers, parks, even bus stops.

This is not the case, however, in Lincoln or in Nebraska, where reason ruled in the City Council and the Legislature. Rather than the 2000 ft. restrictions common around the country, Lincoln (and later Nebraska) adopted a restriction of 500 ft. from schools. I believe this is the least restrictive law of the 30+ States that have adopted such statutes. The comparative impact is displayed in a very short PowerPoint—five slides:

Since they aren’t narrated, I will explain:

Slide one: The City of Lincoln

Slide two: A buffer of 2000 ft. from schools

Slide three: A buffer is added of 2000 ft. from parks. The blue areas would all be off limits if Lincoln had adopted the same law as Iowa. The areas that remain all have a story: many of these are Lincoln’s most exclusive residential areas. Others are places such as industrial tracts, Holmes Lake, and the Lincoln Municipal Airport.

Slide four: Zoomed-in view of one of those donut holes. How long does it take you to identify the type of place this is?

Slide five: The results of the law actually passed, a 500 ft. excluded zone around schools for high-risk (level 3) registered sex offenders whose victims were under the age of 19. As you can see, there is a lot of land available for sex offenders to lawfully reside—which I believe strikes a good balance by preventing some of those unitended consequences, such as more offenders disapparing and failing to report their address changes.


Anonymous said...

I'd always found it interesting that a sex offender with a child victim has residency restrictions and a residence-reporting requirement, but someone convicted of torturing and murdering a child (with no sexual component to the crime) has no residency or residency reporting requirement (once done with parole).

Similarly, those still on parole (regardless of crime) are required to keep you (the police) informed as to their residency, but only sex offenders' locations are searchable by the public, not the parolee murderers, burglars, robbers, auto thieves, etc. The guy living across the hall from your apartment might have done 4 stretches for burglary, but unless you know his name and do some digging, you'll never know.

Anonymous said...

slide 4 looks like a cemetery to me...

that's what she said...

Of course the sex offender rules were passed like most laws, to impress on people how much their politicians care.

I have a feeling the cities and states that passed the 2000 foot rule looked at the same type of chart you showed and thought 'if the sex offenders have no legal place to live then they will all move to a different city/state and be someone else's problem.'

We all know politicians write such good laws. A perfect example is the recent Safe Haven law which was thrown together because Nebraska was one of the few states without one.

Law makers think everyone will automatically follow whatever laws they pass. If someone defies the new law, they say the already overburdened Law Enforcement can handle it. If that doesn't work, they will make it a felony which means more paperwork for a law the DA will drop to a misdemeanor anyway.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the visuals, you've convinced me. Though I still think letting ARRRG make level 3 offenders walk the plank is a much better solution.

Anonymous said...

Do you think that removing the residency restriction, but keeping the reporting requirement, would pretty much have the same ngligible effect on re-offending as does the residency restriction? They could live anywhere that a sentence-completed murderer, burglar, robber, or auto thief could (which is anywhere they can afford), but you'd know where they lived.

It seems that recent ex-cons would be living in low-income rental housing by financial necessity, and since LIH tends to be dense with residents, schools are similarly plentiful in low-income areas, because of all the kids in those areas.

Tom Casady said...


Good call. Wyuka.


I think the politics of the situation make it very difficult for legislators to oppose a residency restriction entirely, so probably the best thing research can do is convince them that a fairly small buffer zone is the best policy. That's what happened in Lincoln and in the Nebraska Legislature, and the results are the 500 ft buffer authorized by our statutes. To me, that's a pretty good thing: we're not forcing sex offenders together into a single far-flung trailer court, or unincorporated villages; there are still plenty of legal housing opportunities; and we haven't gone so far (like Iowa) that we are risking a large percentage of the registered offenders just dropping off the radar entirely.

Dave said...

It has amazed me, what constitutes a sex crime these days. Taking a leak behind a tree and getting caught these days will result in your name being placed upon the sex offenders list.

I'm sure if pressed hard enough, by a public complaint, even though laws indicate otherwise, a mother breast feeding in public could become a registered sex offender.

A law that is fair and applied equally is called for, and lets not let it go like the drug laws have, whereby a person of color receives a harsher sentence then a person of white color.

Funny, we spend the first year of our life, feeding from a breast, then for the next 17 years we are told it is bad. Just doesn't make much sense to me.

ARRRRG!!!! said...

I have a place ye pervs and molesters can stay where there be no laws.

Steve said...


Do you know of any actual research done on the tendency of these child molesters to practice their depravity in their own neighborhoods? I would think they would go somewhere that people wouldn't be likely to recognize them before they started trying to lure kids into their vehicles and such.

Personally, I doubt if residency restrictions pose any kind of deterrant to these peoples' likelihood of reoffending. To me it seems like another knee-jerk reaction by people who don't stop to think about the real impact of what they are doing. Like many of our anti-gun laws, they do nothing to actually increase the safety of the public.

Anonymous said...

I'm hijacking this thread for a moment Chief.

Any comment on the radio issues experienced 6/19? Sounded like things were pretty bad for a while for the dispatchers.

Was it storm related?

Steve said...

I hadn't heard anything about radio problems for the department. However, I know there is a plan in place for ham operators, such as myself, to assist in such cases. This is also true of the fire deapartment communications system, and a number of hams were called in not too long ago when there was a problem. I don't know if hams were called in for the aforementioned problems with the police radios.

Anonymous said...

Remember, while there will occasionally be an elected official who comes to office to do a specific job, then goes back to the plow, the vast majority have re-election as their #1 priority. Re-election comes first, before anything, and so they'll do whatever their finger in the wind tells them. If their switchboard and mailbox fills up with panicky calls and e-mails - especially from regular political donors and PACs - they'll do whatever it takes to pander to those panicky people. Once you get the power to spend other people's money, it's like the most addictive drug there is.

That's how our original ram-it-through idiotic Safe Haven law got slid through, over the objections of a clear-thinking minority. Then, when their huge goof became clear, they rushed to put out the fire they'd started. Our Unicameral's rush to pander to the panicky squeaky wheels made Nebraska a nationwide laughing stock. Did they learn anything from that SNAFU?

Not likely.

Tom Casady said...

7:49 -

As I understand it, we lost a microwave link at one of the two sites for a while, requiring a technician to go out and effect the repair.

There are several levels of fail-soft, including single-site and conventional, but apparently it was resolved quickly enough that we didn't get very deep on the list. I didn't hear about it until I read your comment.

I really don't know how long it lasted, and whether we actually went to conventional (non-trunked) or single site (non-simulcast) or just muddled through. I called down this morning to ask, but nobody knew much about it. Maybe someone else who was on duty can tell you.

Anonymous said...

so being from lincoln I know the ordinances well. but not living thereim glad it doesnt effect me any more.. I had to move to a lerger city..

dance ordinance for 19 and over... you might wanna check this out( 18 and over )

pretty sure its illegal.

Type: Party - Club Party
Network: Global
Start Time: Friday, June 26, 2009 at 9:00pm
End Time: Saturday, June 27, 2009 at 1:00am
Location: Sapna- 1819 O Street -Lincoln NE (next to foxy lady)
Street: 1819 O Street
City/Town: Lincoln, NE
View MapGoogle
Phone: 4022179179

Description+ Hawaiian beach theme

+ 6.26.09

+ 1819 O Street-Lincoln NE (Next to Foxy Lady)

+ 18 and up

+ 9 till 1

+ Wear what you're comfortable in, stick to theme and be creative!