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Falls debate centers on sex offenders

Recent claims by Assembly candidate John Ceretto about inaction in Niagara Falls when it comes to the number of registered sex offenders has raised the ire of Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte, who last week called the claims patently false.

Ceretto, a Republican, said the state is using the city as a "dumping ground for dangerous criminals, those who prey on the children of our community."

"I grew up in Niagara Falls, and the City of Niagara Falls is not the city I left," he said.

Ceretto lives in Lewiston, as does DelMonte, a Democrat. Her district includes the Falls.

The criticism comes in the aftermath of a late April story in The Buffalo News about the concentration of sex offenders in the city. There are 178 registered offenders in the Falls, including 48 Level 3 offenders, the most serious classification.

Niagara County Social Services Commissioner Anthony J. Restaino told The News for that story that there is no concerted effort to place sex offenders in the Falls, noting that the cost and availability of housing were factors for why a higher percentage per capita of offenders live in the city than anywhere else in the county.

Ceretto said DelMonte has expressed concern with this disturbing trend, but has done nothing to curb the influx. In 2007, he said, the State Legislature passed a significantly watered down version of civil confinement legislation, compared to what was proposed in 2005.

"If I'm elected, I propose significant reform to the civil confinement law," Ceretto said. "Those who prey on the weakest members of our society should be kept behind bars where they belong."

Ceretto said he wants to go back to the 2005 law and keep the most dangerous Level 3 offenders in jail for life.

"I believe Level 3 offenders cannot be rehabilitated," he said. "I want to keep them in jail so they can never hurt another person, especially our weakest members, our children.

"If God forbid one of those animals should attack again," the candidate and current county legislator said, "I don't know how Francine DelMonte could live with herself knowing how little she has done."

DelMonte said she was offended by Ceretto's remark.

Civil confinement laws, which govern not Level 3 sexual offenders, but specifically dangerous sexual predators, have been looked at again, DelMonte said.

She joined fellow Western New York Democratic Assemblymen Sam Hoyt and William T. Stachowski in sponsoring a new bill in the Assembly late last year. It passed June 8 and is currently in a State Senate committee.

"This legislation requires a three-person case review team with at least two psychiatric examiners with expertise in these types of disorders," DelMonte said "Review would be conducted by the Department of Criminal Justice, instead of the Department of Mental Health, but this would be in addition to any Office of Mental Health reviews. Any law can be improved

"I also did submit legislation that will increase the amount of time that a sex offender is under parole or probation," she said. "Those were two additions I was able to get through the Assembly and I do have a sponsor in the Senate. I think for the comfort of someone looking in the [sex offender] registry, this gives someone a feeling of having somewhere to report if something inappropriate were to occur."

John M. Caher, a spokesman for the state Division of Criminal Justice said the "vast, vast majority" of sex crimes are committed by someone who a child knows, not a stranger.

A study by the U.S. Department of Justice showed that 93 percent of sex crimes against victims younger than 17 were committed by someone they knew.

However, Caher has called the sex offender registry "pertinent."

"It shouldn't scare people. It's about awareness. Who watches your kids? Who cut your lawn?," he previously told The News.

There are about 30,000 people statewide on the Sex Offender Registry, about 5,000 of which are under supervision. The rest can live where they choose.

In Niagara County, there are 352 sex offenders, 21 who are on parole and six who are Level 3 offenders on parole. They are the most strictly supervised, said State Parole spokeswoman Carole Weaver. There are about 1,000 registered sex offenders registered in both Erie and Monroe counties.

To view the state registry, go to criminaljustice.state.ny.us.

e-mail: nfischer@buffnews.com

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