[UPDATED with Enactment Cheered:] Westminster Jumps Aboard Bandwagon Banning Pervs in Parks

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Erin Runnion
UPDATE, MAY 27, 3:40 P.M.: An Orange County supervisor, the district attorney and perhaps the most famous mother of a local crime victim today applauded Westminster officially enacting a ban on registered sex offenders from city parks.

Cheers from Supervisor Shawn Nelson and District Attorney Tony Rackauckas are no surprise since they drafted the similar ordinance enacted by the county in April. They have been lobbying cities to follow suit ever since. But also lending her approval to Westminster's move Thursday night was Erin Runnion, the mother of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion, who was abducted from her Stanton home, sexually assaulted and murdered in 2002.

While Alejandro Avila was being tried for Samantha's murder--he was convicted of special circumstances murder and sentenced to the death penalty in 2005--her mother formed the Joyful Child Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for child safety and education.

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Samantha Runnion
"It is so important that we rally to insist that the rights of our children come before those of convicted predators," Runnion said in a statement cheering the Westminster vote and distributed by the Orange County District Attorney's office (OCDA). "These are our parks and our children deserve to be safe while they play."

She went on to laud the Westminster Unified School District for piloting the Not One More Child Safety Education Initiative and Rackauckas and municipal leaders "who put children first."

The ordinance, which is the first formally enacted that mirrors the county version, was supported by Mayor Margie Rice and council members Andrew Quach, Tri Ta and the councilman who introduced it, Tyler Diep. Councilman Frank Fry abstained.

"I hope parents of Westminster join me in commending Westminster Mayor Rice, Mayor Pro Tem Diep, and City Council Members Quach and Ta for taking a big step in creating a safety zone for our children and keeping sex offenders out of Westminster parks," Rackauckas says in the same OCDA statement. His senior assistant DA, Mary Anne McCauley, had attended the meeting to press for passage of the ordinance.

"I hope other cities join Westminster and take a stand to protect children from dangerous sex offenders," added Nelson. "A gap in the law was identified and now Westminster police has the authority they need to remove registered sex offenders from children's play areas."

The law makes it a misdemeanor for anyone registered as a sex offender to enter any city of Westminster park where children regularly gather--unless they have written permission from the Westminster Police Department. Violators may be punished with up to six months in jail and/or a $500 fine.

Civil libertarians warn such ordinances may be unconstitutional, while parents who must register as sex offenders for relatively minor crimes from years ago--such as urinating in public--have called the laws unfair.

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UPDATE, MAY 24, 3:36 P.M.: The Westminster City Council on Thursday will consider a local ordinance modeled after the existing county version that bans registered sex offenders from parks and recreational facilities unless they have permission from the police.

That makes Westminster just the latest Orange County city to consider such a law, but Councilman Tyler Diep says his town has something the others don't: a whole lot more registered sex offenders calling Westminster home.

Diep tells the Orange County Register a city staff report shows there are 137 sex offenders registered with the Westminster Police Department. And more are likely on the way as the state is under a court order to reduce the prison population.

For those playing the home version, Westminster joins Irvine and Huntington Beach in considering bans. Tustin, Orange and Fullerton already have ordinances similar to the county's in place.

UPDATE, MAY 17, 8:37 A.M.: The Huntington Beach City Council voted unanimously Monday night to have its staff draft a local ordinance modeled after the existing county version that bans registered sex offenders from parks and recreational facilities where children gather.

However, some council members wondered if the law will be enforceable given the city's vast central park and long city beach strand. And one questioned whether such a law would be constitutional.

Councilwoman Connie Boardman reportedly brought up the constitutional question while also noting she has received emails from parents who had offenses years ago, are now raising children and would be prohibited from taking their kids to city parks.

She suggested a law similar to Tustin's, which does not outright ban offenders but prohibits them from loitering in recreational areas. And her notion of considering the broad spectrum of offenses that can earn people sex-offender tags resonated with two other council members. For instance, someone arrested for urinating in public or who as teen over 18 had a girlfriend under 18 could have been branded sex offenders. Should they pay the same price as a habitual child rapist?

Amazingly, taking the actual offenses into account was also advocated by Surf City Police Chief Kenneth Small, who asked the council to include in the final draft in the ordinance some discretion on how his officers will enforce it.

A new law written by City Attorney Jennifer McGrath will come back before the council at a later date.

ORIGINAL POST, MAY 16, 8:17 A.M.: The county adopted its sex offender ban in regional parks and recreational facilities where children gather last month. The Irvine City Council considered creating its own last week. Tonight, the Huntington Beach City Council gets in on the action.

At the request of Mayor Joe Carchio and Councilman Matthew Harper, the council is scheduled to discuss enacting a city ordinance similar to the county ordinance first proposed by Supervisor Shawn Nelson and Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.

Someone representing Rackauckas is expected to attend the council meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m. at Huntington Beach City Hall, 2000 Main St., Huntington Beach.

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