Councilman Aponte seeks to ban sex offenders from ‘child safety zones’

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – As Washington Park residents continue their efforts to drive a convicted child rapist out of their neighborhood, their councilman has put forward a proposal that would ban registered sex offenders from residing near schools or other facilities frequently visited by kids.

Councilman Luis Aponte, a Democrat from Ward 10, introduced an ordinance Thursday that would prohibit registered sex offenders from living within a 500-foot radius of a “child safety zones,” which would include schools, daycares or recreational areas.

The ordinance would also ban the ex-cons from “entering upon or loitering” within 500 feet of the same facilities. Violators would be subject to fines of $250 on the first offense, $350 on the second offense and $500 for all subsequent violations.

“This is an immediate reaction given some of the things I heard last night,” Aponte told Eyewitness News, referring to a contentious neighborhood meeting attended by more than 200 residents Wednesday after they learned a man convicted of sexually assaulting children in Warwick and Massachusetts in the late 1980s was released from prison and moved to Washington Park last week.

Aponte said he modeled his proposal after other ordinances approved in communities across the country, including Lincoln.

“This is not a foreign concept,” Aponte said. The ordinance was co-sponsored by 11 of Aponte’s Democratic colleagues and referred to the Ordinance Committee. (Three councilors were absent.)

Residents were outraged this week to learn ex-con Richard Gardner moved to a home in Washington Park. After Wednesday’s community meeting, they rallied outside his residence. The neighbors planned to continue protesting Gardner Thursday night.

Gardner’s situation is unique because his offenses pre-date Megan’s Law, a measure that led to the federal government requiring that all states establish sex offender registries, meaning there’s no requirement to inform the community about where he lives. Mayor Jorge Elorza has promised to keep a police detail on Gardner to ensure he doesn’t re-offend.

There are currently more than 500 registered sex offenders living in Providence, according to police.

Aponte acknowledged his proposal would not apply to Gardner because he already lives in Washington Park, but he said he’s hopeful it will address future situations. He said the area around Gardner’s residence has several small home daycares where individuals take care of children, so he wants to ensure no sex offenders can live in the area going forward.

A spokesperson for Elorza said the administration intends to review the proposal before commenting.

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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