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Parks department asked to consider law banning sex offenders

The Vigo County Parks superintendent asked the parks department to consider drafting a policy that would ban sex offenders from using county parks. Kara Kish, the department superintendent, asked the members to consider passing an ordinance at the parks department council's August 26 meeting.

Current parks department policy allows sex offenders to use recreational facilities because loitering is a right of all park users. Many local residents believe registered sex offenders must stay out of these areas as long as they remain on the registry. Vigo County Parks Department staff often receives calls because another citizen recognizes someone listed on a Megan's law website. Sex offenders must update their residence if they stay in one location for more than seventy-two hours.

Kish did not ask the parks council to introduce new policies. She wants the council to take it up in a future meeting. Several Indiana cities already have such rules in place. Plainfield passed an ordinance prohibiting sex offenders from using its public parks in 2002. Lebanon and Michigan City have similar ordinances. Lafayette passed an ordinance that was overturned, and Indianapolis considered passing a similar law.

Other municipalities outside of the state passed laws preventing sex offenders from using public parks. The ACLU challenged these laws on first amendment grounds. Many of these ordinances have been overturned. Plainfield's law faced a similar challenge, but it was upheld by the state court of appeals. The Indiana Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

Although one parks council member expressed a desire to protect the children, he wondered how any new law might be enforced. Current policy allows staff to ban specific individuals from using parks department property. These bans usually involve repeated violations. The most common violations include alcohol usage, drug usage, trespassing after hours, and damaging park property. Kish asked the council to invite Deputy Burns to the next meeting to discuss enforcement.

The sex offender staying at Hawthorn Park committed a minor violation. He plans to stay for two weeks. The parks department often receives calls because someone recognizes a person registered as a sex offender. The red dot over Hawthorn Park that represents his current location should disappear after he returns home. This incident and a reported rape at Fowler Park's wildlife area a year ago caused the superintendent to address the issue.

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