Two proposed local laws would make it easier for people moving into the Rochester area to find out if a convicted sex offender lives nearby.
Sandra Doorley, Democratic candidate for Monroe County district attorney, Tuesday called on county lawmakers to approve new measures that would make it easier for residents to track where registered sex offenders live.
The proposals will be introduced this week by Legislators Vincent Esposito, D-Irondequoit, and Saul Maneiro, D-Rochester.
Esposito’s law would require potential homebuyers and renters be notified about the availability of sex offender databases before moving to a new location. Maneiro wants the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office to review and consider joining OffenderWatch, a nationwide online network that provides residents with updates on the whereabouts of registered predators.
“New York state, law enforcement and school districts currently do a good job of alerting the community about individuals who may pose a threat,” said Doorley, who has two daughters. “However, there are still gaps in the system and one of the keys to closing those gaps is making timely information more accessible to the public.”
Doorley, chief of the appeals bureau, said there are 1,200 registered sex offenders in Monroe County including 258 classified as Level 3, considered the highest risk to public safety with the most likelihood of repeating an offense.
Doorley said in her nearly 20 years with the district attorney’s office, she has prosecuted some of the most heinous crimes, including those involving sex crimes against children and that there is nothing more important in a community than to protect its children.
She said the new laws would increase awareness and give communities and families additional tools to protect residents.
“We need to know who is in our neighborhoods and who is watching our children,” Doorley said.
Peter Stoller, director of communications and government affairs for the Greater Rochester Association of Realtors, said the association is watching the progression of the proposal and checking with legal counsel on its constitutionality.
“While we agree with the goal of the legislation, there are some logistical issues and the avenues to achieve that goal that we question,” Stoller said. “We’re not really sure how the legality of this would play out.”
Doorley, who spoke from the edge of the Maplewood Park playground, is running against Republican Bill Taylor, special counsel to County Executive Maggie Brooks. Current district attorney, Michael C. Green, is awaiting confirmation on a federal judgeship and chose not to seek re-election.
Information about registered sex offenders is available on the New York State Sex Offender Registry (http://criminaljustice.state.ny.us/nsor) through the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. Local school districts also notify parents when offenders move into the district.
Maneiro said it would cost the county $14,000 a year to participate in OffenderWatch, which he said is in use in Erie, Genesee, Niagara and Ontario counties — among 25 in the state using the program to monitor sex offenders. He said the cost could be paid for with existing appropriations. Future expenditures would be considered as part of the annual county budget preparation process.
Maneiro said the program is endorsed by the National Sheriff’s Association and he would like the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office to report back in one month regarding the use of the program locally.
Esposito is proposing the “Home Buyer and Renter Notification Act,” which would require all licensed real estate agents to provide potential homebuyers and renters in Monroe County with documentation on the availability of databases maintained by law enforcement authorities.
He said the existing registration law, known as “Megan’s Law,” provides a level of protection for people living in an area, but nothing for people looking to move there.
Richard Berl of Irondequoit, who has 13 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren said he did not find out his next-door neighbor was a registered sex offender until six months after he had moved to town from Keuka Lake in 2004.
He told Esposito he thought there should be a system to let people know before they move into an area.
Esposito said real estate agents he spoke to recognize the public safety concern and that the legislation would not require them to notify potential buyers and renters where a sex offender lives, but simply to inform them about existing databases.
But Stoller said said the proposed legislation does not really protect all homebuyers or renters since not everyone uses the services of a real estate agent.
Stoller said there are also issues with fair housing and federal and local laws with which real estate agents must comply. For instance, if a buyer asks about the quality of local schools, agents are not allowed to divulge graduation rates. Stoller said they are also not allowed to discuss the ethnic makeup of a neighborhood.
In addition, Stoller cited the Glazer v. LoPreste case ( 278 AD2d 198), dismissed by the state Court of Appeals, in which buyers sued sellers for not telling them about a convicted sex offender living across the street. The court ruled under the caveat emptor (buyer beware) doctrine, that the sellers did not have a duty to disclose the information and that the buyers had not made a reasonable attempt to do their own research or they would have discovered the matter involving the neighbor had been covered for years by local newspapers.
Stoller said the case does not clearly identify buyer’s responsibilities.
“In this case, it specifically deals to the issue of the seller,” Stoller said. “It doesn’t go into too much on the buyer’s side of that.”