SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council gave preliminary approval Monday night to a proposal to prohibit people convicted of serious sex crimes against children from living near the city’s schools and parks.

In an initial vote, the council unanimously supported the ordinance, which would prohibit sex offenders who have been convicted of Class A, B or C crimes against children younger than 14 from living within 750 feet of schools or recreational facilities used primarily by children.

Under the proposal from the police chief, the restricted areas encompass 11 schools and 17 parks.

Several communities in Maine have similar restrictions. Others, including Portland, have considered such ordinances but decided against them.

South Portland Police Chief Edward Googins acknowledged Monday that there’s debate about the effectiveness of residency restrictions. But, he said, “When a sex offender offends, the question is always asked, ‘Could we have done more?’ ”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine opposes such restrictions. It has said that data shows most sex offenses are committed by people who know their victims, and that residency restrictions can create a false sense of security.

South Portland City Manager Jim Gailey said Monday that the ACLU of Maine has not contacted the city about the proposed ordinance. No one spoke against the ordinance at Monday night’s council meeting.

“I’m very glad to see this added to our code of ordinances,” said Councilor Melissa Linscott. “I just think it’s very important to have in place.”

Council Maxine Beecher agreed. “The more we know about where these folks are residing, I think, the easier it is to keep an eye on our children,” she said.

Googins has said that the homes of six of the 10 sex offenders who now live in the city are in the areas proposed for restrictions. He has said that he doesn’t know whether those people have been convicted of serious crimes against children.

Regardless, they would be exempt from the ordinance because the restrictions would not affect anyone who lived in the areas before their adoption.

Mayor Jerry Jalbert said there’s no way to know whether the number of sex offenders living in the city will go up or down.

“We do have to have some sort of means in place,” he said.

If the ordinance is adopted, any sex offenders who move into the restricted areas will have 30 days to move before the city could take legal action and impose fines of $500 a day.

The City Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing and take a final vote on the proposal May 19.

Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @lesliebridgers

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