Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Wisconsin limits sex offenders living area

Ashwaubenon considering sex offender ordinance
Restrictions similar to Green Bay's

By Patti Zarling • pzarling@greenbaypressgazette.com • April 21, 2008

ASHWAUBENON — Ashwaubenon leaders want to slam the door on sex offenders migrating from Green Bay into the community.

The village may adopt restrictions mirroring a Green Bay ordinance that bars certain sex offenders from living in most of the city. Village officials took a wait-and-see approach last year when Green Bay enacted its tough new rule. Today, Ashwaubenon leaders say residents are fed up with sex offenders coming into the village because they can't find housing in Green Bay.

"We have to do something to protect our citizens," said village President Jerry Menne. "When you have someone crying on the phone because they're so upset, it's time to take action."

The village Public Works and Protection Committee supports an ordinance that would restrict certain sex offenders from living within 1,500 feet of a school, day care center, park or other place children might gather. That's less stringent than the Green Bay law, which sets a 2,000-foot restriction.

But it's still tough enough to limit sex offenders to small patches of properties within the village.

The committee also endorsed a loitering rule making it illegal for certain offenders to visit areas within 200 feet of certain places where children might be.

The restrictions need final Village Board approval. The board is expected to discuss the issue at its regular Tuesday meeting.

If enacted, the village likely also would create an appeals board, similar to Green Bay's, said public safety Director Eric Dunning.

That board, made of ordinary citizens, considers requests from offenders who want to move into or to a different home within the community.

Many offenders in so-called "Romeo and Juliet" cases, in which teens have consensual relations with teens, are not seen as likely to re-offend and are allowed to move.

Dunning said the village likely would grandfather in sex offenders already living in the village.

Although neighbors may be unhappy with sex offenders moving in next door, state Department of Corrections officials say they're likely to go underground if communities make it too hard for them to find housing.

Jed Neuman, corrections field supervisor for the DOC, further argues that 86 percent of victims know their perpetrator.

"Let's not assume these ordinances are keeping people safe," he said. "I would hate for residents to think they've solved the problem."

Both Dunning and Menne say they support those arguments, but they insist Green Bay has created an uneven playing field.

"I truly believe in the process (the state) laid out and that we'll be worse off if we don't know where they are," Dunning said.

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