“It’s almost like a tease, he’s seeing all these kids around him,” she said of her former neighbor. “It exacerbates the feelings of him being with children.”
There are six registered sex offenders living in Southborough, Moran said, with two classified as “Level 3,” meaning they’re considered most likely to reoffend.
Only 10 percent of Southborough does not fall within 1,000 feet of a school, day-care center, playground, or other areas covered by the bylaw, greatly limiting where sex offenders can reside, Moran said.
“That’s one of the consequences of their mistakes, and overwhelmingly Town Meeting felt that was justified,” said John Rooney, chairman of the Southborough Board of Selectmen.
Reinstein, however, calls the limitation something else.
“It’s banishment,” Reinstein said. “It means you can’t live in the entire town, and that in turn concedes the authority of one town to determine sex offenders have to live elsewhere.”
Other area communities with similar restrictions include Ashland, Framingham, Hopkinton, and Marlborough.
Natick does not restrict where sex offenders can live, but a 2009 bylaw prohibits them from loitering at youth athletic events.
Many communities with residency restrictions, including Southborough, also prohibit sex offenders from visiting places where children or those with disabilities may congregate.
In the ACLU’s lawsuit against Lynn, the organization said the ordinance bans approximately 200 sex offenders from living in 95 percent of the city.
Reinstein said residency restrictions are counterproductive because they encourage offenders who can’t find affordable housing to stop registering their addresses with police and to leave their families, which means they become harder to monitor.
“They’re less likely to commit other crimes if they’re in a stable environment,” he said.
Willoughby, however, calls Reinstein’s contention “an excuse.”
“I don’t think they’re trying hard enough to find a place to live,” she said.
The ACLU’s lawsuit against Lynn represents five unidentified plaintiffs who are sex offenders, one of whom is developmentally disabled and became homeless after the city started enforcing the ordinance in November. Lynn opted to put the ordinance on hold while the lawsuit, which was filed in the spring, is pending, according to city attorney James Lamanna.
Under state law, Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office ascertains whether town bylaws are legal before they can be implemented. The agency does not have the same responsibility for city ordinances.
Coakley’s office ultimately approved Southborough’s 2008 bylaw, but Assistant Attorney General Kelli E. Gunagan disapproved two initial portions of it, regarding loitering and arrest.
In a letter to the town clerk, Gunagan wrote Southborough’s definition of loitering was “unconstitutionally vague,” which could “promote arbitrary enforcement.” Gunagan also removed a portion of the law that would have allowed Southborough police to arrest violators under the theory they were disturbing the peace.
On Oct. 10, Gunagan reviewed a sex offender residency restriction recently approved by the Western Massachusetts town of Charlemont. The bylaw was approved, but with lengthy warnings that it could be challenged in court.
“A byaw that effectively bans sex offenders from being within the town of Charlemont, or substantial portions thereof, might be the subject of a due process or other constitutional challenge in court,” Gunagan wrote. “Charlemont’s bylaw might be seen as an effort to avoid what a court might characterize as the town’s shared burden of accommodating sex offenders.”
Rooney, the Southborough selectman, said he is not worried about a legal challenge of his town’s bylaw.
“If someone wants to litigate that, I think you can make an argument of proximity to sexual recidivism,” Rooney said, and noted that the overwhelming majority of comments from town residents “have been in support of the bylaw.”
“At some point in time it may be deemed unconstitutional,” said Moran, the town’s police chief. “But until that point, we have to uphold the bylaw.”
Dan O’Brien can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.