The City Council unanimously adopted a new ordinance Thursday night that will create "child safety zones" in Peabody and thereby restrict the activities of convicted Level 2 and 3 child sex offenders.
The zones would typically be schools, parks, libraries or other areas children often congregate and the Police Department would be tasked with enforcing the law and handing out fines to repeat offenders.
"I think this is the right thing for our city," Mayor Ted Bettencourt said, arguing the ordinance is important to safeguarding the city's children against sexual predators.
He told councilors that this measure is about public safety, particularly for children, and that local officials should do what they can to empower the police to deal with safety concerns.
Bettencourt first started working on the law this summer after learning of an incident at a city park where two Level 3 sex offenders had a run-in with some parents while a youth sports game was going on nearby. One mother, Jessica O'Hara, reached out to Bettencourt afterward.
"I was greatly concerned as all of you are that such an incident could take place at one of our parks and our Police Department didn't have the ability or power to do anything [legally]...because a state law doesn't exist or a municipal ordinance didn't exist," Bettencourt said.
He, along with other local officials, was surprised to learn there were no existing state laws that prohibited the activities of sex offenders who had served out their time.
There are only about two dozen states in the country that have enacted such laws, and in Massachusetts, such restrictions are dealt with in court as part of sentencing or probation.
Peabody's new ordinance is modeled after one in New Bedford, which is not currently facing a legal challenge.
Councilors, who fully supported the measure back in October, had little more to say Thursday other than give a firm "yes" vote.
"I think it's a terrific ordinance," said Council President James Liacos. "I was really surprised that we didn't already have something in place."
Several parents were present again Thursday as well for the council's vote, along with School Committee members Dave McGeney, Brandi Carpenter, Ed Charest and Tom Rossignoll.
"I think it speaks for itself," McGeney told reporters after the vote, in reference to the local ordinance.
He added that he's heard nothing but total support for the measure along with surprise that no such law had previously existed.