Staff in the Iowa Department of Public Safety are busy fielding phone calls from sex offenders concerned about new restrictions on loitering that go into effect July 1st.
According to Jim Saunders of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, sex offenders are asking whether they can attend their child’s baseball game, for example.
"You can, as long as you have a legitimate reason to be there," Saunders says."But understand if there is some question, law enforcement is going to approach you, they’re going to engage you in conversation and find out what your purpose is for being there and if you can’t articulate a legitimate purpose for being on that property where children are present, there could be some problems."
A new state law sets up "exclusionary zones" where registered sex offenders may not loiter. The zones are in and around places where children gather — like schools, swimming pools, video arcades and parks. The new restrictions replace a law which stipulated convicted sex offenders couldn’t live within two-thousand feet of a school. That living restriction is still in place for the most dangerous offenders, but all others listed on the state’s sex offender registry are now on notice that they cannot loiter in places where children typically gather.
"So it’s going to a much more effective tool for law enforcement in terms of a potential prevention of an assault or attach on a child," Saunders says.
According to Saunders, a sex offender who has children will have to get permission from a school official before they can set foot on school grounds. Saunders says his agency has been busy, answering specific questions about the new law.
"Some of the offenders were concerned: ‘I can’t go to my child’s birthday party at Yellow Banks Park at the shelter?’ Well, no you can — you’re there for a legitimate purpose," Saunders says. "But if you’re there by yourself and you’re hanging out at the shelter where there’s a birthday party going on and you cannot articulate to law enforcement your purpose for being there, then you may have a problem. You have some explaining to do."
Law enforcement will press charges if they can prove the offender was at the park to identify potential victims. The new law also makes it a crime for a convicted sex offender to work at a school, day care operation, swimming pool, video arcade, amusement park or any other business which primarily serves children.