Council to Fast-Track Talks on Sex Offender Ban

Local parents and a representative from the District Attorney's Office plead with the council to move forward with an ordinance to ban registered sex offenders from Lake Forest parks.

The possibility of banning registered sex offenders from Lake Forest parks is slated for discussion in early December.

Local parents and advocates of such a ban—modeled after —pushed the City Council to move forward quickly with the steps needed bring it to fruition in Lake Forest at its Tuesday night meeting.

Councilman Scott Voigts, who , called the discussion "way overdue."

Brian , told the council that sex offenders pose many risks to children in addition to possible abuction.

Sex offenders can use parks to observe, photograph or groom—deliberately befriend and establish an emotional connection in preparation for sexual abuse—children, he described.

Fitzpatrick noted that the ban would not affect people convicted of minor sex offenses, such as some instances of statutory rape.

Those registered for life as sex offenders who would be banned are "serious individuals who have committed serious offenses," Fitzpatrick said. "The question at this point is why wouldn't the council take action to protect the children?"

The council should be working to put the ban on the books as soon as possible, Lake Forest resident Charles Brower said.

"This [ordinance] is pretty straightforward and shouldn't take multiple council meetings to put on the agenda," he said.

Erin Runnion, whose 5-year-old daughter Samantha Runnion was kidnapped, sexually assaulted and killed in July 2002, also came to the Lake Forest meeting to urge the council to adopt a park ban for sex offenders.

"[Child sex abuse] is a pandemic issue that devastates lives," she said. The ban would be "just a tool" to help fight against it, Runnion told the council.

Holly Shillig, with the  Parent Teacher Association, said she was "horrified" to find out recently that the ban had been but not addressed since.

"I have lived here almost all my life and it devastates me that my city would not make this an immediate action," Shillig said.

She spoke for a group of 50 to 60 parents who she said were at Rancho Canada Elementary Tuesday evening participating in a program to help them guard their children against the same people that the ban would forbid to enter parks.

Lake Forest resident and mother Kelly Hagins also spoke in favor of the ban, saying that "even if it's a misdemeanor, it's a deterrent."

Violations of the ban on entering parks without permission from the sheriff's department would be punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a $500 fine.

Hagins noted the recent conviction of a registered sex offender for violating the county ordinance by entering a county-run park in Fountain Valley on Cinco de Mayo, when many families with children were in the park celebrating the holiday.

Hugo Godinez, 29, Santa Ana, was found guilty of entering the park without the written permission from the sheriff's department. He was also convicted of one misdemeanor count of failing to register and show proof of residency upon release from incarceration. He faces a maximum sentence of one year in Orange County Jail.

Even if the ban faces court challenges, it's worth it, Hagins suggested. "We should not be afraid of lawsuits," the 14-year resident of Lake Forest told the council.

Fitzpatrick said that the DA's Office is convinced of the ban's constitutionality.

The council agreed to discuss the ordinance at its next meeting on Dec. 6.

Other cities, including as , , , Westminster and La Habra have also discussed or enacted similar city ordinances; Irvine implemented a partial ban in June.

Shelly Stow November 16, 2011 at 10:16 PM
Ms. Runnion, my heart breaks at the thought of the tragic loss of your beautiful little girl and the horrors that befell her. No parent should have to endure that, and any thoughts and feelings on your part of how to spare other parents are more than understandable. For the same year in which Samantha died, 2002, this report was released: "Based on a report from the U.S. Department of Justice, National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Throwaway Children, for the year 2002, 40 children nationwide were taken and killed by definite or probable sex offenders, some registered, some not." As horrible and as tragic as each death was, 40 is not a pandemic. It is also noteworthy that, even though connected to accusations of a previous crime, Samantha's killer was not a registered offender, so he would never have been targeted or watched. This is the case with virtually all similar cases involving children of Samantha's age. As horrible as it is, no registry, no law, no ban or ordinance would have saved Samantha. Almost all sexual crime against children is not committed by a stranger, registered of not. It is committed by those known, trusted, and often loved by the children, and there are hundred of thousands of children each year who suffer that abuse; not 40 but many, many thousands. Would not our tax dollars and our resources be better spent on programs that could help stop this horror? God bless you and your family; you are very brave.
KC November 16, 2011 at 11:49 PM
I would also ask how he responds to things FBI stats showing that crime has been on the decline for a while now. Or how one of the problems with the registry right now is that it's woefully out of date, which was why there was a shocking story of sex offenders living with foster kids (the reality was that the registry was outdated and the new occupants were foster parents) Also, how will they be able to enforce the law without violating the rights of citizens? It's not like sex offenders are bright orange and use a bullhorn to announce their presence.
KC November 16, 2011 at 11:51 PM
Sadly, this is an example of quantity over quality in politics (next year being an election year for LF city council if I recall). By making unenforceable and mostly toothless laws to fix issues not present in the city you can (as a candidate) say "I protect children from sex offenders" it makes people nod their heads and stop thinking rationally.
Lake Forest Citizen Paying Attention November 18, 2011 at 05:08 PM
KC - This ordinance provides a deterrent and an additional prosecutorial tool to the police and DA. If, as you say, it is toothless then where is the harm in having it? If, however, it prevents even 1 child molestation from occurring then it is well worth the effort. Also, since you choose to point to the 2012 Lake Forest City Council election as being a political reason for pushing this, perhaps you should check the facts as to which seats on Lake Forest's council are up for election in 2012. Marcia Rudolph and Mark Tettemer are the two who have to worry about their seats, not Mayor Herzog (who opposes this) and Scott Voights (who is championing this ordinance in Lake Forest). How exactly does is Scott Voights served politically in the coming election or otherwise by fighting so hard to get this through now even though his Mayor opposes it for purely cowardly reasons?
Shelly Stow November 19, 2011 at 04:53 PM
Mr. Brower, if I may, I don't know or care about the politics, but I would like to respond to the harm of having the ordinance. The harm is this: For every child, there is a risk of sexual molestation. According to the DOJ Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, if the child is six or under, 58.7% of that risk comes from family members. 39.7% of that risk comes from family acquaintances. 1.8% of that risk comes from strangers, and the registered sex offenders who are in that stranger pool is so low that it is incalculable. As the age of the child increases, the figures alter, but only a little. The risk to children ages 12-17 is 94.3% from family and acquaintances, 5.7% from strangers, and, again, the percentage of registered offenders in the stranger pool is minuscule. So, the harm...every penny spent and every resource wasted monitoring a class of people who are not responsible for 95% or more of the sexual abuse of children is a penny and a resource not spent on programs that could actually make a difference in reducing the number of victims and helping to break the cycle of child molestation. When people say, "If it saves one child...," they are ignoring the fact that in saving one child, you are sacrificing 95 to a 100.


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