With ongoing allegations of sexual abuse – some against former police officers – rocking Biddeford, city officials soon will consider whether to enact residency restrictions for some sex offenders.

On Tuesday night, city councilors directed the city’s attorney to draft an ordinance, prompted by a lengthy and emotional council meeting during which alleged victims – including Matt Lauzon, whose Facebook post in February first brought allegations to light – spoke about their concerns and demanded the resignation of the police chief.

Dozens of cities and towns in Maine have ordinances that prohibit sex offenders from living near schools, playgrounds and parks, but the restrictions have been challenged nationally by civil rights groups as overly punitive.

According to the Maine Sex Offender Registry, 72 sex offenders live in Biddeford, a city of roughly 21,000 people.

By comparison, Auburn, with a population of about 23,000, has 74 registered sex offenders. Augusta, a city of 19,000, has 141.

Biddeford has never had a local ordinance before and hasn’t previously discussed it, but city leaders agreed to have the debate largely because Lauzon has aired his accusations.

Lauzon has claimed he was abused by former police officer Stephen Dodd, and also by Michael McKeown, a registered sex offender who still lives in Biddeford.

Lauzon recently confronted McKeown about the alleged abuse and posted a video of the encounter on YouTube.

While McKeown told the Press Herald his encounter with Lauzon was consensual, Lauzon’s video highlighted a fact that residents expressed concerns about Tuesday: McKeown, a lifetime sex offender registrant, lives across the street from a youth baseball field.

Biddeford resident Mellisa Luedke, who spoke at Tuesday’s council meeting, said she was shocked to learn that McKeown could live so close to an area where children regularly play.

“I have heard he even frequents the concession stand when games are going on,” she said.

Councilors said it was residents’ outcries that convinced them to consider their next steps.

“I think, logically, it makes sense to have that law in place and I think the council will be strongly supportive,” Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant said Wednesday.

Statewide, there are roughly 3,100 registered sex offenders living in Maine, a number that fluctuates daily as people come off or are added to the list, or move in or out of the state. Maine’s sex offender registry can be found at: sor.informe.org/cgi-bin/sor/index.pl.

In Maine, there are two categories of people on the sex offender registry: lifetime registrants who have committed serious sex offenses, including those involving young children, and 10-year registrants who have been convicted of crimes such as statutory rape or indecent exposure.

Local ordinances are allowed by a 2009 law in Maine that permits municipalities to prohibit certain sex offenders from living with 750 feet of a school, park or other public facility where children are the primary users. The restrictions apply only to those with felony convictions and whose victims were under the age of 14.

Eric Conrad, spokesman for the Maine Municipal Association, said his organization doesn’t track the number of communities that have ordinances, but he said it’s probably in the dozens.

“I think once you do it, you’re not going to take it back,” he said.

In 2014, the South Portland City Council unanimously passed an ordinance restricting where sex offenders can live. The city of Bangor passed its ordinance in 2013.

The city of Portland considered a local ordinance in 2010, but didn’t enact one and the discussion has not come back up.

Some communities that already had local ordinances in place, such as Westbrook and Gorham, were forced to loosen their prohibitions when the 2009 state law restricted them to a maximum of 750 feet. Their ordinances at the time had a larger area in which sex offenders could not live.

However, if Biddeford enacted a sex offender ordinance, it is unlikely that McKeown could be forced to move because his current residence would be grandfathered into any new ordinance.

Details of McKeown’s convictions, which date to the late 1980s, were not available, but at least one of his crimes prohibits him from contact with a minor.

Nationally, strict residency restrictions have faced constitutionality questions, with civil rights groups arguing that restrictions containing an overly broad ban on where sex offenders can live effectively create a community-wide barrier.

“Under the American system of justice, we don’t continue to punish people indefinitely once they have served their sentences,” said Alison Beyea, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine.

In March, a court ruling in California forced the state to alter its 2006 law that had a blanket ban on sex offenders living near parks or schools, rendering many of the 6,000 registered sex offenders in the state homeless. California now restricts the residencies of sex offenders whose crimes involved children.

Many communities in Colorado also have scaled back their limits because of a court decision in that state last year.

Beyea said residency restrictions for sex offenders have been found to be ineffective.

“These laws may be well-intentioned, but they are not based on data,” she said. “We know that abuse, overwhelmingly, comes at the hands of family members or acquaintances, not strangers.”

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