By Jacob WilsonGarden Grove Journal
Following Orange County’s lead, the Westminster City Council passed an ordinance requiring registered sex offenders to get written permission from the Westminster Police Department before entering city parks.
The ordinance goes into effect June 25. Violators will be charged with a misdemeanor and could face fines up to $500 or serve up to six months in jail.
Mayor Margie Rice summed up the sentiments of the council: “If it saves one child, it is worth it,” she said.
“Public safety is our primary responsibility and this ordinance gives police more resources and means to deter criminals,” said Mayor Pro Tem Tyler Diep.
Diep brought the ordinance to the council on behalf of the Orange County Board of Supervisors and the District Attorney’s office. “I want this ordinance in place to deter criminals from harming our citizens,” he said.
As might be expected, Diep found plenty of support on the council, which passed the ordinance with a 4-0 vote, with councilmember Frank Fry abstaining.
“I am pleased that we have this ordinance on our agenda,” councilmember Tri Ta said. “I believe that this ordinance will protect our families and children right away.”
Diep acknowledged that he has received letters opposing the ordinance. He said many opponents see the ordinance as a “blanket ban.”
“We are not banning anyone,” Diep countered. “We are simply saying that if you fall into this category, check with the police first. Let them determine if you are high risk or low risk.”
Fry abstained from voting because he was not ready to accept the ordinance as it was written. “I’m not against the law itself but the totality of it,” Fry said. “I believe it is much too broad.”
Fry was concerned it does not allow for exceptions for offenders guilty of nonviolent crimes such as statutory rape. “There are a lot of categories that shouldn’t be in there,“ Fry said. “I’d like to wait and see what other cities do about the wording because that’s the major essence of the law, how it’s worded.”
But councilmember Andy Quach thought the ordinance could have gone even further. “I would even include public libraries, child care facilities and malls,” he said. “This is a good start and it’s appropriate for this council to pass it.”
Maryanne McCauley, senior assistant district attorney, tried to alleviate Fry’s concerns, pointing out that under California Penal Code 290, registration is mandatory for violent sexual predators and likely repeat offenders. But people found guilty of statutory rape are not automatically required to register as sex offenders. Each case is reviewed independently by the sentencing judge.
If a criminal has been required to register, it is likely with good reason, McCauley said. “If the Court has looked at a case and decided that the offender needs to register, there is more going on than just statutory rape.”
City Manager Mitch Waller said that registered sex offenders will not be notified of the ordinance individually but that the ordinance will be published publicly. “It’s part of the citizenry’s job to stay current with new laws.” He added that registrants are required to check in with police and would be notified at that time.
McCauley said that citizens share some of the responsibility in enforcing the new law. “Families should report strange behavior,” she said. “Police can then have the authority to act.”
The Board of Supervisors adopted an ordinance that made it a misdemeanor for registered sex offenders to enter County-run recreational facilities without permission from the Sheriff’s Department on April 5. According to McCauley, the County’s ordinance closes a loophole in the 2010 state law known as “Chelsea’s Law.” Provisions of the law ban registered sex offenders from places such as schools and libraries but not parks.
Fullerton, Irvine, Orange and Tustin have already passed their own similar ordinances and several other cities are considering them, according to McCauley. Currently there are 137 registered sex offenders residing in Westminster.