Residency limits establish safe buffer zones, permit only former residents to return to community
It was with a sense of urgency that Village of Saukville officials adopted an ordinance last week dictating where sex offenders will be allowed to live.
Trustees unanimously approved the residency ordinance at their Dec. 1 meeting, shortly after the Public Safety Committee recommended the rules.
Police Chief Jeff Goetz pushed for the ordinance, after noting that new state regulations on the relocation of sex offenders went into effect Dec. 1.
The state Department of Corrections now limits the placement of violent sex offenders or those who committed crimes against children in halfway houses to 30 days after being released from prison.
Although that period can be extended to 60 days, it puts pressure on offenders looking to start new lives after incarceration.
In the past, Goetz told the committee he and many other law-enforcement officials opposed residency requirements for sex offenders because they tend to result in those convicted of sex crimes going into hiding when it becomes difficult to find housing that complies with the local restrictions.
“We found that if sex offenders wanted to move into a community with one of these residency restrictions, they simply would not report,” the police chief said.
The logic of opposing residency restrictions, Goetz said, was it is better to know where sex offenders live than to pass an ordinance and presume there are none living nearby.
However, he said a new risk has surfaced as more communities adopt residency restrictions for convicted sex offenders.
The City of Port Washington is considering restrictions on loitering aimed at sex offenders, and the Town of Port Washington is in the process of imposing an outright ban on such offenders in their community.
“You don’t want to wait to be the last community to have an ordinance or you will become the dumping ground for offenders,” Goetz said.
“There is a danger we could become an island for offenders.”
The five-page ordinance spells out a strong case for residency restrictions.
“The village finds and declares that sex offenders are a serious threat to public safety. Given the high rate of recidivism for sex offenders, the village believes that in addition to the protection afforded by state law near schools, day-care centers and other places children frequent, reducing opportunity and temptation is appropriate to minimizing the risk of re-offense to better protect children in these public places,” the ordinance says.
The intent of the ordinance is to create “safety zones around locations where children regularly congregate.”
Under the ordinance, no offender may live within 500 feet of any park, school, day-care center or recreational facility frequently used by children.
Landlords are also prohibited from renting properties within those buffer area to known sex offenders under the ordinance.
In what is deemed a “density regulation,” in the event a sex offender can find a residential property in the village that does not infringe on the protected areas, another offender is not allowed to live within 500 feet of that first residence.
Each violation of the ordinance can carry fines of between $500 and $1,000 plus court costs, and up to 90 days in jail.
The sex offender ordinance found general support on the Public Safety Committee.
One critic, however, citizen committee member Thomas Kamenick, resisted the push to adopt an ordinance without thorough review.
“Rushing an ordinance like this to get ahead of a deadline is pretty dangerous,” Kamenick said.
He said there were many vague areas in the ordinance that need clarification, but then strayed into a more philosophical discussion.
“I don’t think government should be involved in saying where someone can or cannot live,” Kamenick said. “Are we saying sex offenders can’t live here but it is OK for convicted murderers or arsonists to live in the village?”
Kamenick was the only committee member who voted against recommending the ordinance to the Village Board.
The final version of the ordinance, presented to trustees just an hour after the committee meeting, did include one key revision.
The ordinance specifies that the state Department of Corrections may not place a sex offender on supervised release in the village unless the individual previously lived in the community.