Sex crimes grandstanding

Forcing a problem on other communities, and a population further underground
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EDITORIAL Sex offenders are an easy political target. Nobody wants to be portrayed as soft on child molesters; nobody wants to defend ex-cons who are required to register their whereabouts with the police. Jessica's Law, the state bill that bars registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of any school or park, passed overwhelmingly in 2006, and only a few brave politicians, including San Francisco sheriff Mike Hennessey and Assemblymember Mark Leno, were willing to oppose the measure on the grounds that it's counterproductive and unworkable.

Now Joe Alioto Veronese, a San Francisco police commissioner and candidate for State Senate, has launched an effort to force the local police to roust sex offender parolees who live in San Francisco. It's good politics for someone who wants a high-profile campaign issue, but it's bad law enforcement policy.

Proposition 83, which Veronese supported, imposes harsh penalties for anyone convicted of a sex crime. It also prevents all convicted offenders from living in San Francisco, since there's not a single residential unit in the city that isn't within 2,000 feet of a school or a park. That, of course, simply forces the problem onto other communities — and tends to send offenders to rural areas, where they lack access to services and ties to the community. By most accounts, isoutf8g ex-cons is a bad way to prevent future criminal conduct.

But there's a loophole, and the state Bureau of Prisons has made no effort to hide it. If an ex-offender registers as transient — that is, homeless — the state can't bust him or her for living too close to a school or a park. So some number of parolees — perhaps as many as 166 — released after committing sex crimes have returned to San Francisco and registered as transients. Some of them probably are, indeed, homeless. Some are no doubt trying to find a way to live in this city without vioutf8g Prop. 83 (and thus vioutf8g their parole, which means returning to prison).

Veronese wants the San Francisco Police Department to go out and find every one of these transients and, if they aren't in fact homeless, arrest them for parole violation. That's going to take a lot of police time — and is unlikely to be terribly effective.

For starters, it's not the job of the SFPD to monitor parolees. The state's Department of Corrections does that — and every transient parolee has to check in with his or her parole officer every single day anyway. Veronese told us he doesn't expect the SFPD to send ex-offenders back to prison — but if they're arrested, that's exactly what will happen.

And for the record, as Sheriff Hennessey points out, only a very small percentage of paroled sex offenders are rearrested for sex crimes. The vast majority of child molesters — the category of criminals Prop. 83 was aimed at — are relatives of the child in question, not strangers on the street. And every one of these parolees already has to wear a GPS bracelet.

The whole effect of Veronese's policy will be to drive further underground a population that shouldn't be hiding in the shadows. It would encourage parolees to hide, to remove their locator bracelets, and to avoid service providers. It would divert police resources at a time when the murder rate is soaring.

It's a bad idea that the rest of the commissioners should shoot down. And if Veronese wants to be a serious candidate for State Senate, he should start talking about real issues and leave the phony "tough-on-crime" stuff for the Republicans.