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July 3, 2010

Sex offenders banned from parks

HANCEVILLE — Hanceville parks became less welcoming to registered sex offenders last week after the city council passed an ordinance prohibiting persons convicted of sex crimes from visiting the city's public parks.

The council unanimously voted in favor of the law, adding to a growing list of towns and governments nationwide passing similar measures to prevent offenders from frequenting areas perceived to be fertile ground for sexual predators. The ordinance makes it a class C misdemeanor for a registered sex offender to be on city park property—a crime punishable by a fine of up to $500 and up to 30 days in jail.

Mayor Kenneth Nail said he approached the council with the idea for the law after observing news reports of a similar proposal the California legislature is considering passing statewide.

"I don't usually like what comes out of California, but I saw this and thought, 'that's a wonderful thing to do, to be proactive,'" said Nail. "We did this for the protection of children in Hanceville, and I think that's the only reason there should be for a council to do this."

The ordinance, which had come before the council in early June, was adopted unanimously when it came up a second time at the June 24 meeting. In addition to school facilities, four Hanceville parks will be affected by the new law: C.W. Day Park, Veterans Park, The Hanceville Recreation and Wellness Center and Donald Hamby park.

While Hanceville proper does not have a large number of registered offenders, Nail said there are a number of sex offenders who have a Hanceville address and who live in the southern portion of Cullman County.

"A lot of people believe Hanceville has a lot of sex offenders living here, because they have a Hanceville address," said Nail. "But we don't have a lot of them living in the city. The Hanceville post office covers an area that goes up to Cold Springs mountain, and to the edge of Good Hope—a big area; a lot of rural area.

"We have had, in the past, folks just sitting there at the swimming pool looking, and we didn't really feel they were up to any good. Research on the history of sexual predators shows that many of them are going to scope out playgrounds; they're going to scope out parks. And the council and I just did not want the convicted sex offenders sitting in our parks. If we realize someone is a sex offender sitting in our park, we're going to arrest them."

"And it doesn't matter where they're from, Hanceville or somewhere else," said council member Joanne Walls. "They can be from Timbuktu, and if they break the law here, they're going to be arrested."

* Benjamin Bullard can be reached by e-mail at bbullard@cullmantimes.com, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 270.

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