Sex offender living near Walden School
“We’re looking to do a local law so this kind of incident does not happen again,” said Village Manager John Revella.
Shock waves rippled through the Village of Walden as word spread that a convicted level III sex offender had moved into the neighborhood—across the street from the elementary school on Orchard Street.
“There is no restriction on where they can live,” explained Revella at a recent meeting of the Village Board. “Which is an issue now in the village.”
The Sex Offender Registration Act does not automatically restrict where a registered sex offender may live, a fact which stunned Walden residents and members of the Village Board.
“Most were not aware there wasn’t any legislation,” said Revella.
Brian Freeland, also known as Brian Balkey, reported to the Walden police station as required when he moved into the area. Revella said that when the officers took down his address, they were “obviously concerned with the location” but there was nothing on the books of the state, county, town or village that placed restrictions.
The police department alerted the community, and residents began to flood the department as well as the mayor’s phone and inbox with requests for assistance.
“If someone is under supervision [such as parole or probation], there can be restrictions on where they live or work,” explained Janine Kava, a spokeswoman for the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), which administers the Sex Offender Registry. “If the offender is not under supervision, as this offender is not, there is no restriction in the law.”
Kava stated that some counties, towns and villages in New York have passed local laws to restrict where a registered sex offender can live, and that is something the Village of Walden has the ability to do.
The Village Board discussed creating a local law establishing a “child safety zone” restricting sex offenders from residing within a certain radius of areas that have a dense population of children, such as schools, daycare centers, parks and playgrounds. The idea is that if they are prohibited from living in those areas they will be less likely to attack a child.
According to the DCJS however, residency restrictions are “fairly recent and it is unclear if they make communities safer.” The department points out that according to the US Department of Justice, 93 percent of victims under the age of 17 are assaulted by someone they know, and most sexual assaults on children take place in a home, not in a park or on a school ground.
The DCJS also warns that residency laws can “drive offenders into homelessness, which may make it harder to track and supervise them.”
At the same time, parents question why anyone would permit a fox to live just outside the henhouse.
In the case in Walden, the registered sex offender currently resides at 90 Orchard Street, across the street from the elementary school in Walden, and is designated as a Level III sexual predator in the Sex Offender Registry. A level three, the highest risk level, means the offender has a “high risk of repeat offense and a threat to public safety exists.”
According to the registry, Freeland was convicted of sexual abuse in the 1st degree, a class D felony, against a 4-year-old female in 2003. He was not a stranger to the victim and served five years in a state prison.
The Village Board was in general consensus that a local law establishing a child safety zone around at least the schools and daycare facilities should be done. These types of laws usually stipulate from 500 to 2,500 feet around schools, daycare facilities, churches, parks, gyms, school bus stops, recreation facilities and playgrounds.
Revella stated that they originally looked at 1,000 feet, however, given the layout of the village, it would be “impossible” for a registered sex offender to live anywhere within the village under that restriction.
The Village Board directed Revella and the village attorneys to research the issue and draft a local law for introduction at the Village Board’s next meeting with the goal of creating a law that would protect residents, but not make it 100 percent restrictive for offenders to live in the village.
In the meantime, parents and residents can obtain more information by accessing the online Sexual Offender Registry, or using the Facebook Sex Offender Locator Application accessible through the NYS Public Safety Facebook page.
They can also sign up to receive alerts via e-mail, text, fax or telephone whenever a sex offender moves to or from a community of interest, including their home, work or child’s school. DCJS offers those alerts through New York State’s ALERT system: www.nyalert.gov.
“Most people don’t think about it until an offender moves nearby,” said Kava, stating that parents should sign up for alerts so they are forewarned.
“The most important thing for people [in Walden] to know is that an individual does live in their neighborhood and they should be vigilant and do all the things parents do to keep their kids safe,” said Kava.
By Rachel Coleman