Fountain Valley eyes sex offender ban

Fountain Valley may soon join the handful of cities throughout Orange County that have banned registered sex offenders from entering city parks.

The City Council on April 17 directed staff to consult with other cities' laws and come up with an ordinance that would ban registered sex offenders from entering Fountain Valley's parks. The ordinance would seek to protect children who gather there for various activities, said Councilman Steve Nagel.

The law would allow offenders to visit parks on a case-by-case basis after obtaining permission from the Police Department or a designated staff member.

"This is just to put them on notice that we're aware they're going to be there," Nagel said.

Those caught in city parks without prior permission would be charged with a misdemeanor.

Fountain Valley has 38 registered sex offenders, said City Manager Ray Kromer.

The direction from the council came after Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and his chief of staff, Susan Kang Schroeder, made a presentation on the matter to the council during a study session, Nagel said.

Rackauckas sent letters urging Orange County cities to pass their own laws banning sex offenders from entering parks, following the Board of Supervisors' adoption of a similar law last year.

Kromer said he is working with the police chief and city attorney to find the best option for Fountain Valley. The group expects to report back to the council in about 30 days.

Neighboring Huntington Beach has adopted the most restrictive ordinance in the county, which bans sex offenders from entering parks altogether.

Huntington Beach Police Chief Ken Small said he didn't want to be the one to give permission to sex offenders and deal with the aftermath if one of them committed a crime while in a park. No other staff official wanted to take on the task.

Nagel said Fountain Valley's law would be fair to registered offenders, allowing them to visit if they have a compelling reason.

Asked if this type of law would put Fountain Valley in jeopardy if an offender committed a crime after obtaining permission from the city, Nagel said it's unlikely that someone on notice would commit a crime.

"It's less likely that they might try something if they're on notice and the Police Department knows what time they'll be there," he said.

Then there's the question of how the city would enforce such a law.

Police Capt. Mike Simko said his department is working with city officials and the council to come up with a way that would ultimately protect children from harm.

"Our priority is to keep our community children safe," he said.

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