Wednesday, February 5, 2014

WI - Sex-offender limits debated

Dumping ground
Dumping ground
Original Article


By Mark Schaaf


RACINE COUNTY - With restrictions on where sex offenders can live in place in some Racine County communities but not in others, county officials have begun discussions on a residency ordinance that would apply to the entire county.

A few challenges emerged in initial talks, including the fact that every Racine County municipality would have to agree to the ordinance — no easy task if the proposed county restrictions differed with local ordinances already in place.

The county also needs to address who would enforce the ordinance — whether it would be the Sheriff’s Office or local police departments — and the state Department of Corrections has raised concerns that it would drive sex offenders to homelessness, making them more difficult to track.

But Mount Pleasant Village President Mark Gleason, who also serves on the County Board and has pushed for a countywide ordinance, said passing the law would ensure no community becomes a “dumping ground” for sex offenders.

The idea has generated interest among Racine County community leaders, Gleason said, as it would create a “level playing field” across the county.

He and other Mount Pleasant officials spoke Tuesday to the county Government Services Committee. No action was taken as the county’s corporation counsel and other departments continue to examine the issue and compare local ordinances.

We’re at that first stage of finding out whether or not this is an option for the county,” Gleason said.

Mount Pleasant passed an ordinance last month prohibiting sex offenders from living near any place children gather, including schools, parks, day care centers, athletic fields, playgrounds and churches. The minimum distance they must live away from those places is 1,000 feet or 2,500 feet, depending on the category of the offender.

The village approved its rules mostly because Racine, Caledonia and Sturtevant put restrictions in place that were driving sex offenders to Mount Pleasant, police Capt. Brian Smith told the committee.

What we were seeing in Mount Pleasant was the fact that these men, who were sexual predators preying on young kids, all of a sudden being dumped in our community,” Smith said.

Whether a countywide ordinance would prevent that from happening in other communities is still to be determined.

Burlington Mayor Bob Miller said he is leery about countywide restrictions. The city enacted an ordinance a few years ago restricting sex offenders from living near places such as parks, schools and churches, but it would be moot if a countywide ordinance is passed.

I would have to see what the proposal ends up being or somehow be involved. Sometimes these one-size-fits-all laws don’t really work that well for everybody,” Miller said. “If Racine has a lot of offenders and we don’t have that many and we end up with their offenders coming here, I got an issue with something like that.”

Waterford, meanwhile, does not have an ordinance on the books. The village researched and reviewed the issue several years ago, but the Village Board decided not to move forward.

Waterford is only 2-1/2 square miles, which makes it challenging to find parameters for restrictions, Village Administrator Rebecca Ewald said.

She said she couldn’t comment on a possible countywide ordinance until seeing it.

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