On the agenda for tonight’s city council meeting is the repeal of our sex offender residency ordinance. I asked for this to be put on our agenda for a number of reasons, the most important of which is that our ordinance makes it more difficult for state officials to keep our community safe.
At our last meeting on January 15, our police chief Derek Beiderwieden spoke to us about our current ordinance. He told us that we have no record of sex offender re-offenses in De Pere, before or since the ordinance. In response to a question from Ald. Dan Robinson, he stated that having our ordinance does not reduce the number of offenders moving into De Pere. He later said that he is not in favor of sex offender ordinances, though he qualified that by saying that when everyone else is doing it, how do you not?
Jed Neuman also spoke to us at the meeting. Neuman is the sex offender registry field supervisor for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. He said that residency ordinances compromise what his agents do, and that this is one group of offenders where we need to know where they are. He said that Brown County at one time had a high compliance rate, and now it’s not as high as we’d like. He also said something which addresses our police chief’s comment about following suit when other municipalities around us are enacting residency ordinances. He said “when one ordinance happens, there’s a domino effect”, and that one common thing he hears is that if we don’t have an ordinance, the numbers are going to jump and they’re all going to flood here. But what he’s found since 2007 is that this is not true, offenders consistently stay in their own home town.
So what do the victims have to say about this? Neuman also told us that there are no victim groups that support residency ordinances.
Having our residency ordinance causes offenders to lie about their home location, which causes Neuman and his agents to lose track of them. This is what jeopardizes our safety. Neuman told us that when offenders are on the registry and are properly supervised, the recidivism rate is a fraction of a percent.
I said to Neuman that our ordinance seems like a solution looking for a problem, that it has nothing to solve, and I asked him if he agrees. He said that this is a fair statement.
In his clearest statement, Neuman said, our ordinance “compromises the agents’ ability to supervise a population that we don’t want to reoffend. We want to be able to do our job. We want to be able to supervise them. We want to be able to protect the community that we work in, that you live in, and keep it a safe place.”
It should be noted that this information is not new. This is the same thing that Tom Smith, the sex offender registry specialist with the state Department of Corrections, told the city council when they created the ordinance 3 years ago. But the council decided against his advice.
Let’s be clear about this. I’m just an alderman representing my district. I’m not out on the street working with offenders. I’m not out in the neighborhoods doing compliance checks. But what I am doing is listening to what the law enforcement experts have been telling us for years. This is where we’ve failed. We need to listen to the experts. And look to other communities, like Appleton, who have avoided such ordinances and are doing well.
Let me also be clear about a couple of other things. There’s an article in today’s Green Bay Press-Gazette which was overall a pretty good article, but I was slightly misquoted. The article quoted me as saying, “the whole idea behind our sex offender registry is flawed.” I did not say that. What I said is that our sex offender residency ordinance is flawed, not the registry itself. So let me explain what will still be in place if we repeal our residency ordinance tonight.
First, the state of Wisconsin sex offender registry will still exist. People on the registry must report their home location, and must update it as they move. Along with that, the De Pere Police Department will still perform registry compliance checks in our city. We have about 3 dozen registered sex offenders in De Pere. Our police officers actually go to their residences and verify that the offender is actually living where they say they live. And we report this information to the state. These compliance checks will continue.
Second, we also have a sex offender loitering ordinance, which restricts offenders from being in child safety zones like public parks, libraries, playgrounds, athletic fields, schools, etc.
So, we will still have our registry and compliance checks, and we will still have our loitering ordinance. I simply want to repeal our sex offender residency ordinance, because the experts are telling us that not only does it not work, it compromises their ability to keep our city safe.
UPDATE: 2013-02-05 Tue 9:30pm
At our meeting tonight, we voted 5-2 in favor of repealing our Sex Offender Residency Ordinance. But since it was not unanimous, it must come back for a second vote at our next meeting on Tuesday, February 19. Voting in favor of repeal were Bauer, Boyd, Crevier, Kneiszel, and Robinson. Voting against repeal were Lueck, and VanVonderen. Ald Donovan was absent.
I also want to mention a very valid point that Ald. Boyd made at tonight’s meeting, and I’ll use my own home as a real example. Our ordinance says that a sex offender cannot live within 500 feet of an elementary school. My house is 600 feet from Our Lady of Lourdes elementary school. So, this means that a sex offender can indeed live in my house, but not a couple of houses down from me. But there are always kids out in our street playing, riding bikes and skateboards, etc. There are kids next door who play basketball in their driveway and mess around in the front yard. So what good does it do to keep the sex offender living away from the school, when they are still living among kids? We’re a small, quiet town, and there are kids everywhere. And how fair is it that a sex offender could live next to me, but not a block down? It just doesn’t make sense. Ald. Boyd made this same point 3 years ago when the council enacted the ordinance, but it didn’t help.