Temper fear with information, caution

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Last week, Hastings police held a community notification meeting in regards to a level three predatory offender who was about to move into this city.

First of all, we would like to thank the police, the Minnesota Department of Corrections, Dakota County and the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center for taking the time to shed some light on the situation and inform residents not just about this one individual, but about how communities and individuals can guard against any predatory attack.

That is what we hope residents here really pay attention to. The individual who moved to Hastings this week has a criminal history that many find alarming. And judging from the mood of the room at last week's meeting, many here are beyond alarmed. They're frightened.

And because of their fear, the people of Hastings have initiated change. Thanks to their outcry, city officials are now starting the process of figuring out how local laws might be used to help keep residents safer while also abiding by state and federal laws, without infringing upon anyone's Constitutional rights (we don't envy them; that process is likely to be difficult and littered with difficult, emotional decisions, and the end result is likely something that won't be nearly as restrictive as some would like).

But at last week's meeting, we heard some things that were concerning. We heard people say that this individual shouldn't be afforded his Constitutional rights, that he should have a sign in his front yard labeling him for his crimes. We heard people upset that he even would be able to walk down a public street to buy basic necessities from the store. At one point, Hastings' chief of police had to caution folks that they themselves could face charges if they go so far as to harass this individual.

It seemed to us that several people had the impression that getting rid of this one person would make everything OK, that without him living here, we could go on about our lives without concern. But this fear of one individual can cause us to lose sight of the larger problem. While preventing registered predatory offenders from moving to Hastings would offer residents some peace of mind, it won't prevent those types of offenses from happening here at all.

The presenters at the meeting tried to drive home a point we found particularly valuable: the vast majority of predatory offenders are not people who have been caught and are released from the system. Most are people who have never been to jail. They are people who have eased into our lives, who have somehow convinced us that they're not a threat.

If Hastings wants a safe community, then we need to temper our fear with a healthy dose of information and caution. We need to teach our children how to interact with people they know and people they meet for the very first time, how to recognize when a situation has gone wrong and what they should do in that moment. We need to understand that risk comes not just from one person and not just from people who come from elsewhere. We need to be prepared for the reality that, sometimes, bad things happen, even in this "sleepy town" of Hastings.