Amendment to child safety zone ordinance on the table

NAUGATUCK — Borough officials are considering an amendment to an ordinance that established child safety zones in Naugatuck.

The ordinance, which was adopted earlier this year, prohibited registered sex offenders from entering child safety zones — borough-owned or borough-operated parks, schools, playgrounds, recreation and event centers, pools, gyms, sports fields and facilities, trails, or open space areas.

Under the ordinance, sex offenders can enter a child safety zone to vote, drop off or pick up their child at school, and meet with a school faculty member to discuss their child, provided they leave the zone immediately after completing their task.

An amendment before the Board of Mayor and Burgesses would allow a sex offender to apply for a waiver from the ordinance.

In order to be eligible for the waiver, the person would have to be considered a non-violent sexual offender, the crime had to be a first offense and not committed against a minor or someone who was physically helpless, the offender’s victim doesn’t object, and it is determined that there is no public safety issue in allowing the waiver.

“This is basically to open a small and narrow window for someone who may have engaged in a transgression that resulted in a conviction perhaps when they were younger but still remains on the 10-year list. Maybe they have kids that are participating in a ball game,” Police Chief Christopher Edson said during an April 3 public hearing on the amendment. “This might give that person an opportunity to explain why they feel they should be allowed into one of these child safety zones.”

The only people who spoke during the hearing did so against the ordinance as a whole.

Cindy Prizio, executive director of Connecticut for One Standard of Justice, Inc., a civil rights organization that advocates for people accused or convicted of sex offenses, said sex offender registries and ordinances such as this one create a “boogey man” to scare people.

“I am asking you to abandon, totally abandon, your well-intentioned, but misguided, policy. With or without your amendment we believe it is unconstitutional. The prejudice and hatred must end,” Prizio said. “It’s unfair and it is debilitating to tell people where they can and can’t go in a town where they pay taxes.”

Resident Frank Finkle said it is unfair to call it a child safety ordinance when it only targets one type of criminal.

“Does the borough plan on imposing laws against those who have been charged with domestic violence or child abuse to the same extent? Who are we to say they won’t become violent on borough property,” Finkle said. “If borough leaders are going to create laws based on the health, safety, and welfare of children, all criminals, regardless of offense, need to be included. Otherwise this law, and others like it, is unconstitutional, segregational and discriminatory.”

Finkle said amending the ordinance to include a waiver possibility won’t make much difference.

“How does the public know that John Doe has been given a waiver and is allowed to be there so he is not harassed,” Finkle said.

The board continued the public hearing on the amendment to its May 1 meeting.