Public Safety & Justice

Los Angeles Builds Mini Parks to Drive Away Sex Offenders

Many municipalities prohibit sex offenders from living near parks. L.A. and Miami are taking it one step further and calling patches of grass “parks” in order to rid their cities of the offenders who currently reside there.
May 2013
This patch of grass is being turned into Los Angeles' newest park in an effort to drive away sex offenders. (Photo: Bob Chamberlin/L.A. Times)

At the corner of Decker Avenue and Torrance Boulevard in the Harbor Gateway neighborhood of Los Angeles, the city is constructing the smallest park within its borders. At just 1,000 square feet -- the size of a modest apartment -- there’s maybe enough room for a jungle gym. Maybe.

But the new park isn’t being built primarily as a playspace for neighborhood kids. It’s being constructed expressly for the purpose of driving away the more than 30 convicted sex offenders who live nearby.

Read the May issue of Governing magazine.

California law prohibits registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park. The new pocket park will force offenders to move elsewhere. Los Angeles wants to build two more parks, in the nearby Wilmington neighborhood, for the same purpose. The city could spend up to $6 million on just one of those tiny parks, to purchase and develop the land.

Municipal ordinances limiting where registered sex offenders are allowed to live are nothing new. So-called “child safety zone” measures have proliferated in cities across the country in recent years; some localities now limit not only where registered offenders can live, but also where they’re allowed to go. Bans on entering parks, libraries and other public spaces have grown more common.

But building new parks as a way to force offenders to move is a recent development. Last year Miami officially redefined an unused city plot as a new park. It accomplished its intended purpose of moving out sex offenders in the area, but the park itself -- a couple of springy playground rides and some patches of poorly sodded grass -- wasn’t much to look at. “I’ve seen Third World countries with parks better than this,” one Miami resident told a local TV station.

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