GARLAND (KRLD) — Not far from Garland High School lies an apartment complex, where a sign warns drivers to slowdown for “children playing”. It looks to be a completely ordinary place for a family to settle down, but in fact, there’s something out of the ordinary. Inside this building there is the highest concentration of registered sex offenders in Garland.
“We currently have sixteen registered sex offenders that live in the complex,” says Joe Harn, the Public Information Officer for the Garland Police Department. “We’ve got a sex offender register unit that their primary job in all that they do is to keep up with registered sex offenders in Garland…One of the things they do is they check on these guys or women four times a year. The state law is that we have to check on them one time a year.”
Unlike the City of Grapevine — which recently passed an ordinance banning sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of wherever children commonly gather — Garland has no such ordinance. “What ours is is for loitering and so they can’t loiter near a school, park or something like that…they can live in such an area.”
Harn says that even though nearly half of the apartments in the complex are occupied by sex offenders not far from a school, parks and a rec center, no laws are being broken. But that doesn’t do much to ease the mind of residents nearby.
“In that much concentration, 16 of them? And with as many kids that walk and play around here on the weekend and the afternoons — that’s just waiting for trouble,” says Kit, who owns a home a few blocks away “We’ve lived here for three years, and this is the first that we’ve heard about it. It’s just not something that we’re going to take very lightly now…somebody’s not doing their job.”
And Jennifer, a sophomore at Garland High School, feels the same way. “That’s kinda creepy, especially with all the kids here… I feel like maybe they should move a little farther from the school.”
But for Shirley and Wes Hightower, who’ve lived in Garland for most of their lives and are now well into their golden years, they have a different take.
“Might be the only place they can go to live,” says Wes Hightower. “Might not be anything bad going on.”
“I agree with him on that,” says Shirley Hightower. “Sometimes people paint with a broad brush — they think birds of a feather flock together. Well not always. Somebody’s had their little wing broken or something so they have to go to another group that doesn’t mean they can’t be rehabilitated.”
INSIDE THE MIND OF A SEX OFFENDER.
And finding a place to live is a problem for registered sex offenders, particularly when they’re newly out of prison.
“I was inside for 18 years. I was convicted of aggravated sexual assault on a victim under the age of thirteen,” says a man who lives in the area and acknowledges being a sex offender, but wishes to remain anonymous.”Just getting out and understanding and being in the world again is tough enough, and then you have that sex offender attachment to you. It makes it even tougher.”
He takes ownership of his crime and his commitment to re-integrate into society.
“I was young; there’s no excuses for it. I own it a hundred percent and I will until the day I die. I did it when I was 23-years-old and I’m fixing to turn 50. But I made the bed and I have to lie in it.”
And he has made strides. Since leaving prison, he’s found a job. And after going from apartment to apartment,has finally bought a house — and even has a wife.
“She loves me for me. She lets me be who I am and who I am is a sex offender living in a world with other people who are just like me but aren’t sex offenders, and I’m just trying to go forward. So she accepts that a hundred percent.”
16 TOO MANY FOR ONE COMPLEX?
But still the question lingers, is it a wise idea for so many registered sex offenders to be under one roof? Stuart Couch, a Sexual Offender Treatment Provider says that depends.
“There have been many who I have worked with who have had problems with getting housing, particularly with getting expelled from housing after being convicted. In my opinion, when felons do associate with each other and they’re not supervised, then this is something that will only breed problems and a lack of public safety.”
Couch says so long as the sex offenders in the complex are supervised, they shouldn’t pose a risk to society. But she also acknowledges that mixing low risk offenders with high risk offenders under one roof could pose dangers.
“Public safety is really enhanced when people who are sex offenders can come to an understanding of themselves rather than speaking to each other and speaking as negatively about their own situation and having somebody agree with them.”
He says that in his experience, he’s seen the older sex offenders take on a mentorship role of the younger ones when they live together and teach them the “tricks of the trade.”
Couch also mentions that the recidivism rate of supervised sex offenders who are receiving treatment is extremely low.
You can search the city’s sex offender website here.
CITY LEADERS REACT
When we first reported this story our findings came as a surprise to Garland City Councilmember Jim Cahill, whose district the apartment building is in. Cahill says he’s going to look into the complex to see if anything needs to be done to increase public safety.
“Now that I have been made aware of it I will investigate and see if there has been any issues…” says Cahill, “We just can’t restrict one person’s freedom at the expense of another but somebody doesn’t have the right to infringe on another person’s freedom.”
And there have been issues says Garland Mayor Doug Athas “That particular apartment complex does come up quite often on police calls. There have been a number of things there, drug deals and other things that police have been called for so it’s not a great apartment complex obviously.” Though he adds that only one police issue had involved a sex offender.
Athas says that Garland has considered adopting an ordinance similar to the city of Grapevines that bans sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of where children commonly gather but opted not to. “Weve looked at the distance requirements that some cities have and what we found is that we couldn’t go to 2,000 feet because we have so many schools in Garland that it would basically be violating the law by not allowing any sex offenders in the city, there would basically be no areas left for them to live.”
When asked whether the City will consider any further restrictions on sex offenders, Athas says he doesn’t see a need. “I think we’re fine right now, if we find that we’re having incidents or other things we would look at it immediately. We work harder than other city I know to make sure our residents are safe. We were recently ranked the 9th safest city in the United States.”
(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)
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