It is getting more difficult for male sex offenders to cover their faces in public places in Buffalo, where the city’s new “mandate that they wear a nametag when they are on the streets — or be locked up for 28 days — is already being criticized as unconstitutional and not effective.
Sandra Rodriguez, the director of the Erie County Public Defender’s Sex Offender Treatment, Education and Prevention Program, criticized the nametag as an ineffective sanction, claiming that it does not effectively differentiate between the different types of sex offenders. But Assistant District Attorney Angela M. Bello said that the law had worked well, especially during the spate of violence in Buffalo’s South Buffalo neighborhoods in the past several months.
“There was a [level] 2 sex offender wearing a nametag [near] my house and it probably saved my life,” Ms. Bello said. “For a woman in a neighborhood like this, to see someone with a visible nametag on their wrist doesn’t make them feel any more safe. What they are doing is segregating people by ZIP code.”
Currently, the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a task force established in Buffalo last year to reduce crime, charges all male sex offenders who register with the city with a “mandate that they wear a nametag” whenever they are on the street. The violators must wear a vial on their right wrist, which lists their name, age, address, and charges. The offenders must also submit to electronic monitoring of their whereabouts.
While Ms. Rodriguez claimed that the law was unconstitutional and is creating a “mental shield” for some offenders, the law is making a difference in the South Buffalo neighborhood where Ms. Bello works. There are fewer sex offenders and “safety sweeps” have been discontinued because of the presence of the nametags, Ms. Bello said. “At first they went out at 2, 4, and 5 o’clock in the morning, and now they are not allowed to be out at those times,” she said.
Now, a state law that has already been rejected by lawmakers in Albany would allow sex offenders to be held in prison for 28 days if they fail to comply with the nametag law. Ms. Bello said that the law may force offenders into rehab before they have been convicted, but she did not think that would be effective.
The law in Buffalo, however, and the state law in effect in other cities, leaves out hundreds of sex offenders who are allowed to remain in the community and do not have to register with the city or state.
“You have to be proactive to get them caught,” Ms. Bello said. “But this is not about saving any lives.”