Wakefield's elected officials have begun the process of examining what kind of legislative response there should be in the John Burbine case. Burbine was a sex offender who did not show up in the public registry because of his Level 1 status, and now faces nearly 100 child sexual abuse charges.
On Friday morning, Police Chief Richard Smith told Wakefield Patch that he had already contacted the offices of State Senator Katherine Clark and State Rep. Donald Wong to ask them about sponsoring legislation aimed at addressing problems with the sex offender registry system.
Later in the day, Wakefield Patch spoke with Clark as well as State Rep Paul Brodeur, who represents the town on Beacon Hill with Wong.
"We are actively researching how the defendant in this case was classified as a Level 1 offender... and if that was done correctly," said State Senator Clark in a phone conversation with Wakefield Patch.
Burbine's sex offender status stems from a 1989 conviction for indecent assault, reported Middlesex County DA Gerry Leone at a Thursday press conference. Allegations were also reportedly made against Burbine in 2005 and 2009 which were deemed not prosecutable at the time, said Leone on Thursday. Another allegation against Burbine earlier this year apparently set the stage for his arrest.
One area that Clark said she is looking at is whether it might be possible to increase a sex offender's classification level if there are repeat allegations made against them, even if they do not necessarily result in convictions. However, this would also face a substantial legal test depending on how such legislation would be written. With that in mind, Clark emphasized that any such proposal would have to be made with respect for constitutional rights. "We are talking about fundamental rights of people," noted Clark. "It's an area we want to approach thoughtfully."
The State Senator also pointed out that it's important to remember that along with children, society must also be vigilant in protecting other vulnerable populations - including seniors and the disabled - from abusers.
For his part, Rep. Brodeur emphasized that any legislative response will be done "carefully and soberly" in conjunction with legislators, law enforcement, DCS, and others. He also warned that some people may find the pace of any such legislation frustrating. Still, he added that "I know there will be legislation on this." In fact, Brodeur pointed out that the new legislative session is only about a month away, and most bills are filed during the first few weeks of a session. He also predicted that there would probably be more than one bill aiming to address loopholes in the sex offender registry system.
"A hard part of the job is to understand the legitimate passion out there and the quite reasonable reaction, but we have to make sure the system works," said Brodeur, noting that he especially plans to work with Leone and freshman House colleague Chris Markey, a former Bristol County DA, on legislative solutions.
Brodeur added that if there are others out there who may have information about the Burbine case, "they really need to share it" with their local police.
Finally, another aspect of the Burbine case is that he allegedly abused children in the care of his wife's tutoring and day care business, which was not fully licensed. With that in mind, Clark reminded local parents to look for state-licensed businesses when selecting child care.
"Look for that license. It offers you a lot of protection for who will be caring for your child," said Clark.