Council considers sex offender ordinance

Some say proposal may be too restrictive

July 12, 2007

Milwaukee aldermen and state corrections officials are debating whether a proposed ordinance that would tightly restrict areas in which sex offenders could live in the city might backfire.

The ordinance, sponsored by Aldermen Tony Zielinski and Jim Bohl, would prohibit particular types of sex offenders from living or loitering within 2,000 feet of parks, schools, licensed day care centers, swimming pools, recreational trails, playgrounds or any other places where children might congregate.

Zielinski said he has been working on developing the ordinance for more than two years and has been assured by the city attorney the law would be defensible in court.

The alderman said residents have expressed deep concern about convicted sex offenders - especially those who have been convicted of assaulting children - living on their blocks. He said parents are worried about the safety of their children.

"When I go through a neighborhood, this gets people more upset than anything," Zielinski said. "People shouldn't have to live like that."

Because the ordinance is so restrictive, corrections officials, according to published reports, have questioned its effectiveness. They worry offenders would simply not comply with requirements that they register with the state because it would then be too difficult to find a place to live. If that happens, corrections officials say, offenders would be driven underground and would be more difficult to monitor.

Zielinski said he does not think that concern should be a barrier to adopting the ordinance.

"If (the sex offenders) have such poor judgment that they will risk re-incarceration, those are the ones that are most likely to re-offend," he said.

The residency restrictions would "grandfather in" offenders who established residency in a prohibited zone prior to its effective date.

On and after its effective date, the law would apply to sex offenders required to register with the state under the Wisconsin Sex Offender Registry Program, to those who have been designated "Special Bulletin Notification" sex offenders and to those who have been convicted of any sex offense against a child.

Zielinski noted suburban communities such as Glendale and Franklin are considering similar ordinances. Cudahy and South Milwaukee also are in the midst of drafting such ordinances. In a prepared statement, Zielinski expressed concern that Milwaukee will become a "dumping ground" for sex offenders "as the doors are being shut tight in adjacent communities."

The Common Council's Public Safety Committee has delayed action on the ordinance until it gathers more information on the impact of the measure.

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