State's relocation of sex offenders to near local park is unjustifiable

New York’s decision to move offenders into West Seneca area is foolish

On February 23, 2014

Sex offenders belong nowhere near a town park frequented by local children, and though the move might be legal, the state has no moral authority to place them there.

Nearly 300 residents of West Seneca furiously protested on Saturday, reacting to the relocation of seven developmentally disabled sex offenders to two group homes in a neighborhood in the relatively small town just south of Buffalo.

The protesters are justifiably unhappy. The move took place late on Jan. 3 by the state's Office for Persons with Developmental Disabilities after the secure facility the offenders were being held at, Monroe Development Center in Rochester, closed.

The state notified the local police that the men were being moved to two homes on Leydecker Street but did not inform the general public of the move. The inherent deception in the attempt to move the sex offenders secretly is exacerbated by the violent, abhorrent nature of their crimes.

Of the seven, four are Level 2 offenders and three are Level 3, the highest offense level. Offenders are deemed to be Level 3 when the "risk of re-offense is high" and there is a significant "degree of dangerousness posed to the public," according to the state's sex offender registry.

The registry reveals the details of the crimes committed by the new residents of 510 and 526 Leydecker St.

Christopher Eckert was convicted of sexual contact against a child and sexual abuse. His victims include a 6-year-old and a 4-year-old. 

William Maund's victims were 4 and 5 years old when he raped and sexually abused them.

Russel E. Bennethem, Richard C. Walton, Timothy Knisley. Respectively, their records include sexual abuse of a 14-year old, a nine-year-old and an eight-year old.

Their new home is just 600 feet from a neighborhood playground.

This location is the most contentious aspect of the move. The state disregarded and overrode a town ordinance prohibiting any registered sex offenders from living within 1,500 feet of a school, park or "anywhere children congregate."

Although the state is legally permitted to override local law, ethically the move is far from permissible.

Legality of an action should not be the only concern by a state organization involved in such a significant decision. Moral considerations for the community affected and potential danger must be at the forefront of any deliberation on any decision, particularly when locating sex offenders.

Protestors Saturday - fueled by frustration toward perceived state negligence and concerns for children - repeated calls for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to immediately move the offenders.

Further angered by the lack of advance notice, protest organizer Tony Fishione stated the community "was blindsided by this." He and his neighbors refuse "to be held prisoners" in their homes, he said.

Cuomo responded with an explanation of the state's dilemma when former sex offenders are released.

"People are saying 'I don't want to live next to [them]," Cuomo said. "That's the predominance of the problem."

Certainly even such monstrous criminals deserve a level of human rights and, when deemed appropriate by the courts, should be allowed back into the community.

The issue is not that former offenders never be allowed back into society. Given the nature of their crimes, where they are allowed to live is crucial to contemplate.

The secretive nature of the move, the blatant disregard for local laws and apparent disinterest in the safety of the community is unacceptable from our elected officials and state organizations.

When common sense, common law and better judgment are sacrificed for the convenience of an easy decision, poor results will inevitably follow.

For the best interest of the community, these offenders should be moved immediately to a location in accord with local regulation and with proper notification.

Community organizers have promised to protest every weekend until the issue is dealt with. We can only hope this is the worst that comes from this unacceptable move.



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