Convicted sex offenders allowed in public libraries

Posted at: 07/03/2013 6:18 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Convicted sex offenders are once again allowed in Albuquerque’s public libraries, thanks to a new state law that went into effect this week.

Here’s how we got to this state of affairs. Back in 2008, when Martin Chavez was mayor, he decreed that no convicted rapists or child molesters or gropers would be allowed in the libraries. The U.S. Court of Appeals shot that down in January of 2012. Richard Berry, the current mayor, came up with another idea that has now also bit the legal dust.

The big worry is that lots and lots of kids use the libraries. A lot of sex offenders are pedophiles. The Berry policy was to allow sex offenders strictly limited use of the main library downtown, and they had to sign in. A new state law says local governments may not impose more requirements than the state imposes – and that means the libraries are now open territory.

Sex offenders now have the same rights in the libraries that everybody else has. If the libraries are open, they are welcome to come in and stay as long as they obey the rules and don’t break the law. There is no sign-in. It’s don’t ask – don’t tell.

“I think it’s wrong,” said library customer Don Rich. “Somebody that’s a sex offender, they don’t need to be around children at all and there are a lot of children in here.”

“I don’t like the idea of that,” agreed Kathleen Mower, on her way into the Erna Fergusson branch on San Mateo near Comanche. “On the other hand, public places – well, it seems like they ought to be public.”

The American Civil Liberties Union fought the city over the sex offender ban all the way to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

“The city is constantly focusing its efforts on people who are strangers, or predators,” said ACLU director Peter Simonson. "It’s a sort of stereotypical notion of a sex predator that really doesn’t represent where most sex offenses are occurring.”

Simonson said that wouldn’t be the library, but somewhere much closer to home. Most sex offenders know their victims. They are frequently family members or members of the victim’s family.

Right now city administrators are trying to figure out how to stretch the thin ranks of the city’s security officers to cover all 17 library branches when they’re open to the public.