By Brandon Lowrey
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The city of Los Angeles, seeking to force registered sex offenders out of neighborhoods where they have clustered in large numbers, is building tiny green spaces to exploit a state law banning offenders from living near parks, officials said on Friday.
Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino, whose district includes a pair of neighborhoods called Harbor Gateway and Wilmington where the parks will be built, said the large population of sex offenders in his district had created unease among residents.
"We shouldn't have to be the capital of sex offender registrants in the Harbor Gateway and Wilmington communities," Buscaino said. "We want to prevent incidence and fear of crime in the city of Los Angeles and this is one way of doing that."
The move represents a novel use of California's so-called Jessica's Law, which requires sex offenders released from prison on parole to live more than 2,000 feet from schools or parks. Several other states, including Texas, Kentucky, Florida and Georgia have similar measures.
The idea for the creative use of the law originated from the Los Angeles Police Department, which had been monitoring more than 80 sex offenders living near the site of one of the three planned parks in Harbor Gateway, a narrow strip of land that connects the Port of Los Angeles to the rest of the city.
The two other parks are being planned for nearby Wilmington, a largely industrial district.
By building parks, city officials say they are creating zones where sex offenders cannot legally live.
The city of Long Beach, which borders Buscaino's district to the south, has more restrictive rules governing where sex offenders can live. Long Beach, in addition to schools and parks, keeps the offenders away from places where children spend time, such as after-school program centers.
Buscaino said he asked the Los Angeles City Attorney's office to craft a similar ordinance so sex offenders will not see his district as a relative refuge.
Civil libertarians have criticized restrictions on where sex offenders can live. They argue the laws do not cut down on sexual abuse crimes and instead give the false impression most child molestations are committed by strangers, when a majority are perpetrated by relatives and acquaintances.
Attorney Janice Bellucci, who heads the non-profit California Reform Sex Offender Laws, said Los Angeles' decision to build parks with the intent to banish sex offenders sets a dangerous precedent.
"I don't think it's going to be effective and I'm afraid others are going to repeat it," she said. "We're going to do what we need to do to stop it, including filing a lawsuit."
A two-and-a-half-year study led by professors at Arizona State University and published last year in the journal, Cityscape, found that 65 percent of the registered sex offenders the researchers tracked changed addresses during the course of the survey, with one-third moving into off-limit areas.
(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis, Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh)