August 21, 2016
Detailing the inefficacy of sex offender residency restrictions in Milwaukee
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has this lengthy new article about the problems created by a residency restriction for sex offenders in place in Wisconsin's largest city. The article is headlined "Sex offender ordinance hasn’t worked as planned, putting public at greater risk," and here are excerpts:
In the two years since Milwaukee leaders enacted the residency ordinance as a way to push sex offenders out of the city, little has gone as planned. Rather than reducing the number of sex offenders, the ordinance has put more than 200 of them in the street and failed to keep new offenders from moving into the city, a Journal Sentinel analysis has found.
Experts say the increase in homeless sex offenders could put the public at greater risk. Studies show that without a permanent home, the lives of offenders become more unstable, increasing the chance they will re-offend. “Somebody might feel safer today because this one person doesn’t live on their block. But as a community, we are not safer, and this is not sustainable,” said Holly Patzer, executive director of Wisconsin Community Services, a nonprofit advocacy group focused on criminal justice and public safety.
The ordinance bans many sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of areas where children are commonly found, such as schools, parks and day care centers. In Milwaukee, that means hundreds of sex offenders are limited to 117 possible housing units. And even those 117 units might not be available to rent or buy.
When the Milwaukee Common Council voted 8-6 to approve the ordinance in 2014, supporters said it would protect the public by pushing more offenders out of the city and into the suburbs, where a disproportionately low number of the county’s offenders lived. Supporters also argued the extremely restrictive rules would send a message to lawmakers in Madison: that Wisconsin needs a statewide sex offender residency law, rather than a patchwork of local ordinances.
But an analysis of state and Milwaukee sex offender registries shows those goals haven’t been achieved since the vote:
■ The number of homeless sex offenders in Milwaukee County has spiked, rising from about 15 in early 2014 to 230 this summer. Milwaukee police officials warned in 2014 that homelessness would increase, but a lead sponsor of the ordinance, Ald. Tony Zielinski, said he didn’t believe them.
■ Milwaukee County suburbs continue to house a disproportionately low share of the region’s sex offenders. In fact, their proportion — about 10% of county offenders — is virtually unchanged since the ordinance was passed.
■ Hundreds of offenders deemed “affected” by the ordinance — and thus, effectively banned from living in Milwaukee — continue to reside in the city, flouting the ordinance and accepting periodic fines.
■ The ordinance hasn’t prodded the Legislature to enact a statewide sex offender residency law, though there is renewed optimism it could happen soon.
Ald. Michael Murphy, who sympathized with supporters of the 2014 ordinance but voted against it, voiced concern at the time that the measure would increase homelessness among sex offenders and cause a greater threat to public safety. Murphy said he’s “still very fearful” about the number of homeless offenders. “My concern is that these offenders will re-offend, and everybody will be pointing fingers,” he said.
Although the data suggests the ordinance hasn’t worked as expected, some local leaders said they have no plans to make any changes. Zielinski said the ordinance has protected residents and stopped some sex offenders from moving into local communities. However, he could not provide specific examples to support his view.
Zielinski also accused the Wisconsin Department of Corrections of “fudging the numbers” of homeless Milwaukee offenders. Likewise, he didn’t provide evidence to prove the allegation, saying only that the department has been slow to provide him with accurate data in the past. “I’d have to check those numbers, but I know we have prevented a number of serious sex offenders from moving to Milwaukee,” Zielinski said. “The only thing I can tell you for sure is that Milwaukee did the right thing. Otherwise, we would have continued to be a dumping ground for state sex offenders.”...
[In 2014] four aldermen proposed their own ordinance: sex offenders who met certain requirements couldn’t live within 2,000 feet of schools, day care centers, parks, recreational trails, playgrounds or areas where children are known to congregate. Any offender in violation could be fined $1,000 to $2,500 per day. The aldermen argued the ordinance was the city’s best hope of forcing state officials, who had largely ignored their concerns, to pass a statewide residency law. “Although this may be seen as a punitive measure, I’m hoping that this sends a shot across the bow to the ones who really control the whole system and methodology of how we place sex offenders (in) the state of Wisconsin,” then-Ald. Joe Davis Sr. said.
But officials from the state Department of Corrections and Milwaukee Police Department warned that rather than moving to the suburbs, many sex offenders would stay in the city and become homeless. In turn, they said, it would be difficult to track offenders and recidivism rates could rise. Then-police Inspector Carianne Yerkes told members of a council committee that she worried the city’s ordinance wouldn’t prod state leaders into action. “I don’t know how long we can wait for that, and I’m afraid of what will happen in between,” said Yerkes, who has since been promoted to assistant chief.
Ultimately, the council passed the ordinance, Mayor Tom Barrett signed it into law in July 2014, and the rules went into effect in October 2014. Two years later, the city is seeing the practical effects of the ordinance:
■ The percentage of homeless sex offenders in Milwaukee County has jumped from less than 1% in early 2014 to 9% in mid-2016, according to an analysis of Department of Corrections data. Most homeless offenders are still on GPS monitoring and have to check in weekly with the state, but they have no permanent residence.
■ Sex offenders haven’t moved out to the suburbs en masse, doing nothing to dispel the “dumping ground” perception. About 10.5% of the county’s offenders live in the suburbs now, compared with 11% in early 2014.
■ The city continues to add hundreds of new sex offenders, despite the new rules. Department of Corrections data shows that at least 380 Milwaukee sex offenders have either moved into the city or been added to the registry since early 2014. The city has about 100 more offenders today than it did in 2014....
The ordinance hasn’t forced sex offenders out of the city for two primary reasons: most sex offenders are exempt from the rules, and others have willfully violated them. Milwaukee Police Department data shows about three-quarters of offenders living in the city are exempt because they were grandfathered in, live with family or aren’t required to follow the ordinance because of the nature of their crimes. The Common Council wrote those exemptions into the ordinance.
Among the 620 offenders in the city who aren’t exempt, about 460 have city addresses, putting them in violation of the ordinance. The remaining 160 are homeless or don’t list addresses. Milwaukee police have issued tickets to most of the 460 offenders, generally fining them about $1,000 to $1,300 per incident. Dozens of other offenders have received warnings or notices of violation.
“When MPD discovers an offender in violation, enforcement action is taken,” the police department said in an email. But those citations — most of which were issued between December and June — haven’t been enough to force hundreds of offenders to leave the city. Several offenders have been issued three citations, yet they continue to reside in Milwaukee.
August 21, 2016 at 12:00 PM | Permalink
Again as I have asked before: what happens if disgruntled former sex offenders decide to band together in their homeless locations to form a radical sself-defense group like Black Lives Matter to stage major confrontations with law enforcement over these stupid laws?
Posted by: william r. delzell | Aug 21, 2016 1:11:53 PM
Better yet, what if these offenders finally find a sympathetic lawyer who doesn't give a crap about whose political balls he or she steps on and gets this ordinance overturned because of its patently punitive nature and the fact that the law was designed from the ground up to be an act of banishment? I really hope this comes back to bite that sorry piece of crap Alderman Zielinski who hurls accusations and assumptions without a shred of proof.
I hate what sex offenders do as much as the next guy, but dang it, I'm sick and tired of seeing the Constitution of this nation trampled at every turn by spineless hypocrites who probably, if truth be known, should be on the list and wearing a GPS themselves!! Look at Mark Foley!! Had any private citizens sent sexual texts to teen-agers, they'd be on the registry as a predatory offender so fast heads would swim, but when it's a D.C. politician it's another story altogether.
These men and women have paid their dues. Leave them alone and let them get on with as much of a normal life as is possible!!!
Posted by: Will Crump | Aug 21, 2016 6:00:11 PM
There are more people supportive of the rights of black defendants than sex offenders so major confrontations of that sort probably won't work. Also, the problem is that the courts repeatedly have upheld these sorts of things, so the government pushes further.
Posted by: Joe | Aug 21, 2016 10:48:28 PM
They thought the sex offenders would move to the suburbs?
Put on your thinking caps people. If you are a sex offender, and I hate that term because it lumps every offence under one label, you've probably had some difficulty finding a job that would afford you a comfy life in the suburbs. And to fine offenders for living within city limits, again, with no jobs, how are they going to pay a fine?
And for God's sake, where are the stats that show offenders are more likely to "sexually" re-offend if they are homeless? If that's true, then the residency laws are just setting them up for failure once they've paid their dues, done their time.
In a world filled with children, it's time to stop this ridiculous notion that a distance of 1,000 ft, 1,500 ft, 2,000 ft whatever the magic number of the day is, will make children safer. Most sex offences, especially child offences, take place in the home, with people they know.
Posted by: kat | Aug 22, 2016 11:12:40 AM