"We don't want to find ourselves in a position where we are one of the cities that don't have an ordinance," Dan Robertson, [Pinehurst] city manager and police chief, said Thursday. "We don't want to attract sex offenders because we don't have one."Fear - that's what's driving the move toward Texas municipalities restricting sex offender housing, not any rational debate. It's a familiar spectacle, isn't it? If a politician repeats the words "sex offender" enough times, often it seems like they think any ridiculous idea may then be justified to the public. Sadly, that appears to be pretty much true. (I partly blame local TV news' "if it bleeds it leads" crime coverage for that.) At a certain point, though, people who've done their time deserve the right to build a new life and try to move on. These laws make that impossible for some.
Fear drives bad decisions everywhere in life. Security decisions, by contrast, must be driven by an analysis of targets, risks, rewards and resources to actually increase public safety. Even in the scariest situations, the best decisions are made by those who keep their head and calmly analyze what to do, not those who react to their fear. (To this day the best framework for making security-related public policy decisions I've ever seen was laid out in the estimable Bruce Schneier's post-9/11 treatise, Beyond Fear.)
By any cost-benefit analysis, local sex offender residency restrictions are a public policy disaster. At best they only move the risk around, at worst they create a situation where sex offenders must drop out of sight of authorities simply in order to find a place to live. In California, some sex offenders who can't find places to live because of these laws must sleep on the floor in local parole offices, but others will simply abscond. At that point, they could be living anywhere and authorities wouldn't have any idea where to find them
That's too big a downside. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, however well intended, the unintended consequences of these laws actually make the public less safe.