Revised sex offender residency rules back to council

by Emmitt B. Feldner
of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – The city’s Public Safety Committee decided Thursday that 1,500 feet is a better number than 2,000 feet.

With that change, the committee sent a proposed residency restriction ordinance for registered sex offenders back to the City Council for final action.

It wasn’t a unanimous recommendation, however, as committee member and Alderman Jim Faller continued to object to increasing the restriction from 500 to 1,500 feet.

“Something’s wrong here. It makes no sense to me. Drug offenders and murderers can move anywhere in the city,” but not registered sex offenders, Faller commented.

“Because the nature of the crime very often includes children, the city as a whole has determined that this particular group needs restriction over and above,” any others, Alderman David Williams – in the audience at the meeting – responded.

“Surrounding cities have adopted a lot of this already,” committee member and Alderman Greg Hildebrand, who introduced the original ordinance that was referred to the committee, explained.

He noted that the city of Sheboygan Falls has already adopted a 2,000-foot restriction.

“Mostly this just stops the dumping of these child molesters and sex offenders in the city of Plymouth,” Hildebrand stated. “We can’t stop the ones who do live here or have lived here or have family here, (but) I want to stop people getting dumped here.”

“We’re not doing anything out of the ordinary here,” Williams added. “We’re making sure we’re not a preferred area because it’s easier to get into Plymouth than another city that has adopted this ordinance. If we do not have an ordinance like this, we become that magnet because the whole town’s open and unrestricted.”

Two representatives from the Wisconsin Department of Corrections,

Ruth Ries and Holly Reck, were on hand to explain the placement procedure for registered sex offenders being released from prison.

“Our primary goal is not to find a place to dump them,” Reck asserted. “That’s entirely counterproductive to the goal of our program.

“We would by no means dump them in Plymouth, Sheboygan, Kohler or anywhere that doesn’t have an ordinance,” Reck, who oversees the placement program in Sheboygan County, added.

The planning process for placement of registered sex offenders begins six months ahead of their release, Reck explained.

“So it’s not a snap decision. Our primary goal is the protections of the community and it always has been,” Reck stressed.

She also noted that probation and parole officers overseeing sex offenders have a much smaller caseload than other officers, so registered sex offenders are more intensely supervised.

“The evidence shows the best way to reduce recidivism is a positive support system,” Reck said. “Very few sex offenders recommit a sexual offense. The number who reoffend sexually is very, very low.”

City Administrator Brian Yerges presented a series of maps representing the areas of the city that would be prohibited under restrictions of 500, 1,000 and 1,500 feet from all schools, parks, playgrounds, day cares and other areas where children might congregate as listed in the ordinance.

While at 500 feet roughly half of the city’s residential neighborhoods were in the prohibited areas, by 1,500 feet nearly the entire city would be eliminated except for a few streets in several subdivisions on the city’s far south side.

“I have no problem with 1,500 feet,” Hildebrand said. “That does cover a big, wide band around our schools, churches and things like that.”

Yerges said that, as city administrator, he would like to see a consistent statewide policy on residency restrictions.

“The hard thing I have to deal with is that the city of Plymouth is stuck in a position where other communities around us have a more strict ordinance,” Yerges commented. “We need a statewide policy so every community is treated the same and we all play with the same rules.”

Reck did note that under Chapter 980 the state does have a 1,500- foot restriction for the most violent sexual offenders released into the community.

Hildebrand moved the recommend passage of the proposal with the change to 1,500 feet and other clarifications of allowed residency for offenders who have family members who have moved into the community since their incarceration, as Ries suggested.

That motion passed by a vote of 4-1, with Faller voting no and committee members Al Kranick, Steve Douglas and Mayor Donald Pohlman joining Hildebrand in voting for it.

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