Law-enforcement officers from around the state are in Des Moines reviewing the state’s sex-offender law, now that a judge has upheld the requirement that offenders released from prison live at least two-thousand feet away from schools and daycare centers. Linn County Sheriff Don Zeller says he wants to know how they’ll enforce it. “I don’t want to start something that’s only going to confuse what people are already confused about now,” says the sheriff. He says people are already calling to say they want to be in compliance but don’t know what they’re supposed to do. County attorneys can give guidance to the local deputies, but with 99 counties, Sheriff Zeller says there may be differing interpretations of the law. As an example, Zeller takes a sex-offender living in an apartment that’s in a “banned area.” He wonders if the apartment’s landlord has a responsibility to notify law enforcement. The sheriffs and other local officials have come to the capital city for answers, though Department of Criminal Investigation Assistant Director Steven Conlin says the D-C-I itself likely will turn to the county attorneys for advice. Conlin says one of the big questions is likely to be what the actual distance means — whether the 2-thousand feet cited in the rule means the property line, or the front door of a building. Conlin says those details will be important, since in many small Iowa towns there’ll be few places not within 2000 feet of a daycare or school. Black Hawk County Attorney Tom Fergusen says that’s especially true for the approximately 300 offenders living in his jurisdiction. He says small towns like Hudson and LaPorte seem to have no areas where sex offenders can live — and even in Waterloo and Cedar Falls there are few areas, and only small ones, that offer living space outside that two-thousand-foot limit. Whether there will be places available in those few neighborhoods isn’t yet clear. In all, there are about six-thousand known convicted sex offenders living in Iowa. Linn County Sheriff Don Zeller says even if offenders obey the residence restrictions, it doesn’t guarantee everyone in Iowa is safe. Just because they can’t live near a school or daycare, he points out it doesn’t prevent them from going near it or walking past. He says legislators try to give us good laws to help protect the public but they’re always looking at ways to update them to make them better. New laws passed this past session include longer prison sentences and more supervised parole, but sheriff Zeller says he’d like a grounding on the distance law recently affirmed by the courts. Zeller says the standard needs to be set and followed statewide. He says a lot of offenders move from county to county and come in from out of state. Last week a judge ruled the residency rule can be enforced beginning September 1st.
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