Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett says the city will no longer be a “dumping ground” for sex offenders. The mayor signed a bill this week restricting where they can live after leaving prison.
Most municipalities in Milwaukee County passed laws limiting where convicted sex offenders can live. Those rules, in effect, keep offenders out. But until now, the city of Milwaukee did not enact restrictions.
“Not surprisingly, Milwaukee became, from our standpoint, the default position,” says Mayor Barrett.
He says Milwaukee became one of the state’s only options because it must place released offenders back in the county they came from. So the number of offenders in the city skyrocketed.
“In fact, an analysis that we did of two zip codes showed an increase of approximately 45 percent of placements of sex offenders in those zip codes. This is not a sustainable situation,” Barrett says.
Barrett says it’s not fair for scores of people whose crimes happened outside Milwaukee to be placed in the city. So, he says to protect residents, Milwaukee has enacted the same type of legislation many surrounding communities have in place. Sex offenders cannot reside within 2,000 feet of places where children congregate, such as schools and day care centers. The law leaves only a few, tiny parts of the city where offenders can live.
“The stakes are high if you’re a mother of a five year old or an eight year old and a sex offender who had never had anything to do with this community is now placed in your neighborhood,” Barrett says.
Barrett accuses the state of neglecting the problem for far too long and demands that it find a better system.
“From my standpoint, these are individuals who committed state crimes. They were prosecuted by state prosecutors. They appeared before state judges who sentenced them. They were placed in state institutions and now that they are being released, according to state law, the state cannot simply wash their hands of them. And that’s exactly what’s going on right now,” Barrett says.
The state Department of Corrections issued a statement saying it will help ensure public safety by maintaining the Sex Offender Registry and collaborating with local law enforcement. The department says its agents will also remain cognizant of residency restrictions and direct offenders to comply.
At a recent meeting where Milwaukee council members discussed the residency rule, Police Inspector Carrie Yerkes said it could force some offenders “underground.”
“What our concern is, if we now put in an ordinance that restricts where they can live that they’re actually going to have false addresses in other places, but they will still be living in the city of Milwaukee and that actually wipes that dot off the map of the sex offender registry map,” Yerkes says.
On Tuesday, Mayor Barrett said he recognizes the residency restrictions could lead some offenders to fall off authorities’ radar. But he maintains that keeping track of offenders falls at the feet of the DOC and the state elected leaders who write corrections laws.