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Sex offenders banned from child and teen sections of libraries

The Harold Washington Library in the South Loop. | Sun-Times Library

Two years ago, Ald. Marty Quinn (13th) tried to declare Chicago’s 78 public libraries off-limits to registered sex offenders during summer months, when the buildings tend to be overrun with children.

The ordinance went nowhere because of legal concerns.

On Tuesday, Quinn joined forces with his Southwest Side neighbor Ald. Mike Zalewski (23rd) on a modified ordinance crafted in conjunction with Library Commissioner Brian Bannon that city attorneys believe can pass legal muster.

That revised approach was approved Tuesday by the council’s Committee on Public Safety. It would prohibit anyone convicted of sex offenses against children and, therefore, required to register as a sex offender, from “entering into and or remaining in a designated child area or designated teen area” of any Chicago public library.

The only exception would be “when accompanied by the child sex offender’s son or daughter” and only if that child “remains in the immediate area of the child sex offender at all times.”

Computers in child and teen areas would also be off limits to adults.

Designated child areas would be “prominently marked with signage uniform across all” 78 Chicago public libraries.

Ald. Marty Quinn (13th) was finally successful in his efforts to declare parts of Chicago’s 78 public libraries off-limits to registered sex offenders. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Ald. Marty Quinn (13th) was finally successful in his efforts to declare parts of Chicago’s 78 public libraries off-limits to registered sex offenders. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

“The city of Chicago cannot ban a registered child sex offender from going into a public place. But we can create restrictions designated within the library for children and teens and that’s what this ordinance does. It found the balance point. That’s what I was after two-and-a-half years ago when I set out to do this to protect our children,” the alderman said.

Quinn said the lengthy quest was worth the trouble. It took on added urgency after an incident at the Garfield Ridge library in the past year.

“There was a registered child sex offender who was hanging around the water fountain. There was a mother there with her three children. She was very alarmed by it. Called my office. Called Ald. Zalewski’s office,” Quinn said of an incident that, fortunately, did not result in a physical assault.

Quinn wasn’t the only aldermen with a scary story to tell. Rookie Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) had one, too.

“Just last week I was at 51st and Wentworth for an incident where we had a gentleman who not only exposed himself, but was using our libraries for something they’re not meant to be used for,” Lopez said.

“If this gives us the opportunity to keep our children safe, deter these kinds of individuals from coming into our libraries to do things that are detrimental to our children, to our youth to our communities, then I am all for this and support it wholeheartedly,” he said.

Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), a former Chicago Police officer, said he’s all for protecting children. But he’s “very concerned about enforcement” of the partial ban.

“I see folks in and out [of public libraries] all day, every day. And it would probably be challenging for anyone sitting as an employee in the library to be able to pick out someone who is a registered sex offender and even know whether or not that person is in a designated area. The enforcement of it, I think we’ll have some problem,” Taliaferro said.

Assistant Corporation Counsel Scott Spears tried to ease Taliaferro’s fears.

“Current library policy does not allow an adult to be in a child area unless accompanied by a child. So, an adult wandering around in a designated child area is a red flag right off the bat that something is going on,” Spears said. “What this ordinance does is, it gives that library policy some teeth.”