How safe is your family downtown?

May 22, 2008 9:04:25 PM PDT
Downtown Houston is enjoying a renaissance of sorts. For longtime Houstonians, the changes are dramatic. For newer residents they're certainly welcome additions to the city's center. But with more people downtown comes the need for more attention to security and safety.

Downtown Houston is growing. More and more people are working and living and playing there every day. With festivals, sports and green space, it's a draw for families like the Vandenbergs.

"I think it's brought a whole lot of positive energy, nightlife, a lot of things to do for the kiddos," said parent Tawn Vendenberg.

But just because downtown continues to grow and more families spend time there, that doesn't mean the criminal element is gone.

"The criminals will look for a target of opportunity," said Houston Police Department Captain Gregory Fremin.

Captain Fremin is aware that among the 6,000 people who now live downtown, 78 of them in a single zip code -- 77002 -- are registered sex offenders.

While some of them are behind bars, it is still a concern, as it is just about anywhere.

"You can be in your front yard, take your eye off of your children for one minute and the wolf can come knocking at your door," said Captain Fremin.

Along with all of the other downtown attractions is the new Discovery Green. It's a beautiful park that borders 77002. It has 24 hour security and built safety into its design.

"We looked at sight lines and crime prevention through environmental design, making sure that the overall design of the park enhanced rather than inhibited creating a safe environment," said Guy Hagstette with Discovery Green.

"We view it as one of the safest places in the city," said Bob Eury with the Downtown District.

Eury says sex offenders and crime are not pressing issues downtown.

"We haven't seen any kind of manifestation of it whatsoever," he said.

But that doesn't mean the sex offenders aren't aware of the possibilities.

"I'm pretty much a loner," said convicted sex offender Joseph Tomasko. "I don't go out socially a whole lot anymore to keep from getting in trouble."

Tomasko was convicted of assaulting 12-year-old boy. He's been out of prison 7 years and lives downtown in the 77002 zip code.

"I know what a struggle it is," he said. "So I stay away from places where I know it's a violation of the law for my part."

More than 30 list their address at the Star of Hope mission. The mission works to rehabilitate and counsel the homeless and says sex offenders only stay there after complying with their parole or probation.

"It doesn't matter where you live in the city," said Marilyn Fountain with the Star of Hope. "That is something that all parents have to be concerned about. There are sex offenders living in very residential areas."

And that, regardless of the numbers or the part of town, is how Tawn Vandenberg approaches safety with her family.

"One is something you have to be on guard," she said. "So whether it's 1 or 70, you just have to make sure you're aware of your surroundings and who is around your family."

If you're interested in finding out whether any registered sex offenders live in your neighborhood, you can find a link to the state's website here.

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