Video: Park bench arrest

msnbc.com
updated 10/4/2005 4:47:43 PM ET 2005-10-04T20:47:43
STORY

If you‘ve ever thought about taking a moment to relax on a park bench, you may want to think again.  As one woman recently found out, if you‘re alone, you could be breaking the law.  And you might even spend a few months in jail. 

Sandra Catena recently sat down on a New York City park bench.  The 47-year-old was then greeted by two police officers on both sides.  The cops told her she was breaking the law.

Many public parks now require a special pass.  You‘re welcome if you bring a child, a detail Catena and many others miss.  She was ticketed for being here alone and now faces a $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail. 

“I begged him for a warning several times,” said Catena. “I told him, I will leave immediately and never come back.  And he said, no.  We need to give you a summons.” 

The rule was designed, in large part, to keep sex offenders out. 

Officials said communities are creating stricter rules like this one to protect their children because of high-profile cases in the media involving sex offenders or missing children.

Adrian Benepe, New York City Parks Commissioner said, “It‘s a very important rule in terms of maintaining playgrounds as safe havens for children and for their caretaker.   It is a rule that we‘re consistently asked by neighborhood groups and civic groups to enforce.” 

Officials said, these days, the rules need to be as creative as the offenders. 

“I know there are some jurisdictions right now that are looking into where the school bus picks up their children to make sure that it is not in front of a sex offender‘s home,” said Andy Kahan of the Houston Crime Victim Assistance Program.  Regulations also restrict entry into parks and sometimes even video arcades.

According to Kahan, “We need to realize that this is a public safety health crisis.  That‘s why we have to take such measures that some might view as draconian, but others, like myself, view as more being proactive.” 

For Catena, the problem isn‘t the rule, but how it is enforced. 

“If I had kids, I would feel good about it.  However, they need to let the public know it exists,” said Catena, who will fight the ticket in court next month.

Now, there are close to 400,000 registered sex offenders in the U.S. These rules aren‘t likely to go anywhere.  Though officials agree, they need to be enforced on a case-by-case basis, so that strides made in battling sex offenders are not lost.

Catena‘s court date is set for November 16.  She says she hopes the judge will dismiss the case.

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