Residency restrictions need closer scrutiny

NIMBY – WHICH STANDS FOR ‘Not in My Back Yard’ – has come to play a large part, for good and for bad, in many local issues over the years.

The latest instance came before the City Council last week with proposed additions to the city’s sexual offender restrictions ordinance.

While the proposal adds some definitions and clarifications, the major change would be the addition of language establishing residency restrictions for registered sex offenders in the city.

It would prohibit any registered sex offender from living “within 2,000 feet of any school, licensed day care center, park, recreational trail, playground or place of worship” in the city.

The council discussed the proposal, then decided it needed more study and referred it to the Public Safety Committee, which could get possible input from officials from the state Department of Corrections, which oversees probation and parole for those on the registered sex offender list.

That was a wise step, as the issue requires further and deeper study and consideration.

This is familiar ground that the council is plowing, as this issue arose seven or eight years ago with a similar request for the council to adopt the residency restriction.

Instead, after consultation with state parole and probation officials, the council instead opted for a loitering restriction to prevent registered sex offenders from ‘hanging around’ places where children are expected to congregate.

It’s an approach that, by all indications, seems to have worked since then in allowing law enforcement officials to keep close tabs on sex offenders living in the city (17 of them in 2009) and in preventing them from committing any subsequent offenses.

At that time, the probation and parole officials told council members that “there is no evidence that residency restriction protect children.”

They cited experiences in the states of Florida and Iowa, where the adoption of statewide residency restrictions hampered monitoring of sex offenders, reducing compliance by offenders and driving many of them underground.

A 2013 study by the University of Missouri-St. Louis on the impact of residency restrictions in that state and in

Michigan confirmed that observation.

“The effect of residency restrictions on sex offender residences and behavior is small,” that study concluded, “and there is evidence that the restrictions may further complicate the reentry process.”

At the same time that the city of Plymouth originally rejected the residency restrictions, the city of Sheboygan Falls decided to adopt a 2,000- foot restriction, which remains in place there to this day.

It would make a good point of study for Plymouth officials to determine what impact, if any, those restriction have had in Sheboygan Falls in comparison to Plymouth’s choice to utilize a loitering restriction only.

Several on the council expressed concern about how broad a 2,000-foot restriction would prove to be. It’s a valid concern, as that distance is nearly four-tenths of a mile. Draw that large a circle around every school, day care, church, park and playground in the city and the circles might well encompass the entire city.

Many other communities have opted for less restrictive numbers, from 500 to 1,500 feet, and the result has still been effective and enforceable.

Setting too stringent a limit could, in effect, black out an entire community or, at the very least, create small pockets sexual offenders would be forced into – in effect ‘ghetto-izing’ them.

Most of us live with people on the sexual offender list in our neighborhoods without even being aware of, or affected by it. Information on who they are and where they live is public information and available to anyone. Law enforcement officials know who they are and where they live. Sexual offenders live with many eyes on them, watching and monitoring their actions and lives.

Stringent residency restrictions may well hamper, rather than help, those monitoring and supervision activities. All they might do is create a false sense of security for a few residents.

Registered sex offenders are already in many of our back yards. The best approach is to keep them in open, under watchful eyes, monitored and supervised at all times.

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