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Are you living close to a sex offender?

Waukesha has proposed stricter regulations, ordinances to limit them

Aug. 2, 2011

You can't always choose your neighbor or who moves into your neighborhood. Sometimes, you may end up living near someone many try to avoid, such as a registered sex offender.

Some might be aware of sex offenders in a neighborhood, while others might not be, but there are a great number of them in Wisconsin. As of last week, there were almost 20,250 registered sex offenders in the state.

Despite being 20th in size population (5.7 million) of the 50 states, Wisconsin's sex offender total makes them seventh on the list of the most registered sex offenders. And from that total, according to the Wisconsin Department of Corrections Sex Offender Registry, 150 are currently residing in the City and Town of Waukesha. As of last year, 55 of them were being actively supervised, which could include an electronic monitor.

Mayor Jeff Scrima said this is too many.

"We have made progress in the city when it comes to this issue," Scrima said. "We still have more work to do. Unfortunately, we do have landlords in the city who are housing a lot."

Clusters in the city

Some of these locations in Waukesha include an area west of Frame Park, between East St. Paul Avenue, East North Street, Pewaukee Road and near West Moreland Boulevard. Four of the 11 who live in this area, reside in the same apartment complex where Pewaukee Road merges with East North Street. The area is in District 2 near the Waukesha County Courthouse and Moor Downs Golf Course.

Not too far from that area are more sex offenders in District 3. This location is on East Main Street in the Oakland Heights area. A cluster of sex offenders are also located north of East Moreland Boulevard off Highway 18, which is in that same vicinity and same district.

There are more in the Sunset Heights Apartment Complex, which was changed to a transitional residence last year, on the city's south side. The sex offenders live on Southwest Avenue, on Darlene Drive and on Dodie Drive. The area is in District 7.

While not as many as some of the other areas, McArthur Road, on the city's southwest side, is also a spot where multiple sexual offenders reside.

Although the others are spread out, Waukesha Criminal Investigation Bureau Sgt. John Konkol said there is a clear explanation why certain areas are filled with more than others.

"The Wisconsin Department of Corrections has an agreement and a contract with landlords to house sex offenders who might have been recently released," Konkol said.

After prison

A transitional residence is where sex offenders can live after being released from prison.

The general public can view the map of registered sex offenders on the Wisconsin Department of Corrections Sex Offender Registry website. The map shows if the person was convicted of an offense against a child, rape, sexual battery or another offense.

In order to differentiate between the types of offenses, each category is color coordinated and after clicking on an individual one, viewers can see the sex offender's headshot with their description, their address, if they are under an alias name and what they were convicted of and when it took place.

The map also shows the distance they are within schools, day cares or parks. Some of these destinations are actually very close to where sex offenders reside. For example, Trinity Lutheran School, 1060 White Rock Ave., has seven offenders within 1,000 feet of the school. Moreover, the closest offender is only 0.04 miles away.

Then there's Schuetze Recreation Building & Playground, 1120 Baxter St., with two offenders living less than 1,000 feet away.

There are no offenders within 1,000 feet of Frame Park, which is on East Moreland and Whiterock, but there are 41 within a half-mile of the popular destination.

A Time to Grow Child Care Preschool Center, on 511 Arcadian Ave., has five within 1,000 feet from its building.

Child Safety Zone

However, keeping sex offenders away from the city and anywhere near these locations has been a priority for many in Waukesha. For example, before 2007, there wasn't an ordinance for how close sex offenders could live to certain locations. The Waukesha Common Council passed a ban on sex offenders from living within 750 feet - labeled as a Child Safety Zone - of a school, park, playground, day care center or recreational trail. The Ordinance and License Committee had recommended 1,000-foot zones, but with the ample amount of schools, playgrounds and day care centers in the city, it would have almost wiped out registered sex offenders from the city.

The ordinance has also prohibited registered sex offenders from loitering at schools, parks or playgrounds and within 200 feet of day care centers. Nonetheless, the 750-foot ordinance does not include downtown and the Buena Vista Avenue area, which explains many sex offenders live in that location.

In 2009, the Waukesha Police Department began enforcing this law. While the offenders have been notified of the ordinance, six offenders violated the ordinance and each was given 30 days to move out of the safety zone. Still, three did not and received citations, as a result. In 2010, four offenders were also found to be in violation of the ordinance. If the sex offenders resided in the Child Safety Zone before the ordinance went into action (Dec. 12, 2007), they were grandfathered out of the ordinance.

City carries 'the bulk'

When compared with the state's sex offender total, Waukesha makes up less than 1 percent of all the sex offenders in the state. But when compared to cities with comparable sizes to Waukesha, the city is in the middle. As of 2009, Appleton and Eau Claire had more with the ratio of active offenders to the city's population. Oshkosh and Janesville, though, had less per population.

Scrima said the distribution could be better divided among the county.

"They need to live somewhere, but as a city we shouldn't have to carry the bulk of them," said Scrima, who added citizens occasionally voice concerns to him regarding sex offenders. "Per population with the rest of the county, we are still above everybody else."

That's why another change was recently established. Scrima said Aldermen John Kalblinger and Steve Johnson started an initiative to prevent sex offenders from coming into the city.

"They have moved forward on an ordinance change that prohibits sex offenders from other communities from entering Waukesha," Scrima said.

Ordinance helping

The ordinance passed earlier this year by the Common Council and it now prohibits any sex offender under state supervision from being placed in the City of Waukesha unless that person was a permanent resident of the city at the time of the offense. Kalblinger said more good has come out of having the ordinance.

"The ordinance has already helped and is helping this city going forward," Kalblinger said.

Kalblinger is most likely referring to instances such as what happened in May when the ordinance went into action and prevented three sex offenders from entering the city. Two of those three are currently in the Waukesha County Jail, while the other is incarcerated at a facility in Sturtevant. Konkel, however, said the city is a prime destination for sex offenders due to a number of reasons.

"The rent is inexpensive for them in some apartments in Waukesha," Konkel said. "Plus, because of the bus transit, the jobs and the social agencies, they come here. So the Department [of Corrections] isn't going to rent out of the area."

Johnson did not respond to repeated telephone calls and emails.

The DOC's protocol is putting sex offenders under supervision in the county the offense took place and where they were convicted. But as Konkel indicated, Waukesha is ideal due to the abundance of housing.

Wisconsin state statutes designate where sex offenders will live after their release from prison. But in a release, the Waukesha Police Department made it clear that they have no part in deciding where one is to be placed.

"They should notify and talk to legislature," Konkel said if citizens want even tighter regulations on sex offenders.

Repeat offenders rare

Under Wisconsin law, sexual assault is defined as any sexual contact or sexual intercourse with another person without consent. The state categorizes sexual assaults into four degrees. First, second and third degree sexual assaults are felonies, while a fourth degree sexual assault is a misdemeanor.

Konkol said there are usually 10 to 12 Level 3 notifications a year in Waukesha. Level 3 is labeled as expanded notification when the offenders present a significant number of high risk factors. This expanded notification entails notice to the general public. This occurred in February when the Waukesha Police Department sent out a release saying a sex offender, who assaulted a female when she was 14 and 16 years old, had been released in the city. The release also described the man and where he was going to live.

Despite the rearrest rate for convicted child molesters being 52 percent according to the Family Watchdog homepage, Konkel said repeat offenders are rare in Waukesha.

So although Konkel said people should be aware of when sex offenders are released, they should not be frightened.

"Since I've been here, there has only been one person who recommitted a sexual assault," Konkel said. "That is one out of hundreds that I've seen. They're not recommitting the act, and that's what we want.

"They're out there, but these people are under a microscope and have drug, alcohol tests and some (the high-risk ones) have monitors on."

The Waukesha Police Department Crime Prevention/Community Relations Bureau is available to help set up Block Watch groups and provide information on personal safety. Crime Prevention may be reached at (262) 524-3769 or (262) 524-3785.

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