Portland’s Public Safety Committee got it right this week by killing a proposed sex offender ordinance.

The well-intentioned proposal would have created zones limiting where registered sex offenders could live. It was proposed in response to the news that a large concentration of sex offenders are living in an apartment building in the neighborhood of Portland High School, raising safety concerns for some members of the City Council.

The Public Safety Committee has recommended a response, but it’s just not what the ordinance’s backers had in mind.

The facts about sex offenders do not support the kind of ordinance that Portland was considering.

The vast majority of sex crimes are committed by people who know each other, often by people who are related.

Studies suggest that the majority of offenses are never reported. An ordinance that only affects those who have already been caught and punished misses much of the public safety risk.

It could even make the public less safe. Police and probation officers can’t keep track of sex offenders unless they know where they are, and an ordinance that is too strict could drive some offenders underground.

Which is not to say that the city should do nothing. Committee Chairman Dan Skolnik has asked the School Committee to consider a joint city and school public education campaign for kids and families.

Police can also be given more leeway to notify neighbors when someone they see as a threat moves in, he said.

Both of those ideas would do more to protect children than arbitrary lines drawn on a map. This is a serious problem and the committee has come up with a serious response.


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