Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Elkhorn considers 'child safety zone'

by Rob Ireland

September 05, 2013

ELKHORN — City officials are mulling over an ordinance that would stop registered sex offenders from living too close to schools, parks and other areas where children congregate.

Officials in Elkhorn have been discussing a “child safety zone” for more than a year and are continuing to examine court-tested ordinances that have been approved throughout the state.

Alderman Brian Olson brought the issue up for discussion when community members raised concerns about the number of sex offenders residing in the city.

“The ordinance itself was brought up because constituents have questions about the ebb and flow of sex offenders being placed in our community,” Olson said.

Sex offenders are often released from jail or prison directly into Elkhorn, Olson said.

City Administrator Sam Tapson said the Wisconsin Department of Corrections also has contracts with facilities to provide housing for sex offenders after they are released from custody.

Olson said there are two of these facilities located in the city’s downtown.

More sex offenders reside in Elkhorn than other surrounding communities, a Regional News analysis of the sex offender registry showed.

As of last week, 80 registered sex offenders live in the 53121 zip code, which covers the city of Elkhorn and some of the neighboring rural area.

Twelve of those offenders were being held in the Walworth County jail, and 19 live outside of the city limits. However, the remaining 49 live in the city.

Compare that to the 35 sex offenders who live in the 53115 zip code, which covers the city and town of Delavan and the nearby rural area. Fourteen live within the city of Delavan.

Thirty-two offenders live in the 53147 zip code, which includes the city of Lake Geneva and parts of the towns of Linn, Lyons and Geneva. Sixteen offenders live within the city limits.

The Regional News analysis was completed between Aug. 28 and 30, and, because of the nature of the registry, some of these figures have likely already changed.

The proposal

Tapson said the city is looking at ordinances in other communities that have withstood court challenges.

“As of this moment there is a draft ordinance that is based on court-tested ordinances in other communities,” Tapson said. “Franklin, South Milwaukee and others have established these zones that restrict an offender from residing within 2,500 feet of designated locations, such as schools, playgrounds and the library.”

If an offender already resides within an ordinance-created “child safety zone”, he or she would not be forced to move.

“You establish that boundary of residential living and then you also have embedded into the ordinance safe zones these offenders may not even enter,” Tapson said.

State law doesn’t directly prohibit sex offenders from living near schools or day cares, but several communities have created ordinances outlawing it.

“Walworth County, with the exception of East Troy, has really not addressed or discussed ordinances such as these,” Olson said. “You see them more commonly in the Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Kenosha areas. You could go north as well, where it is a fairly common ordinance in communities.”

Places of worship weren’t listed as an area that sex offenders are prohibited from living near.

However, Olson said most of the churches in Elkhorn would be protected because they have schools or day care facilities.

Tapson and Olson said the city also examined including bus stops, but abandoned that plan because it wasn’t feasible.

School bus stops change on a regular basis, and other communities that block sex offenders from living near bus stops provide public transportation.

“With the ever changing bus routes for, basically schools, it would be a difficult situation to address,” Olson said. “We looked at it, but we struck it out.”

Olson said he hasn’t heard concerns from constituents about the proposed ordinance, but he has heard concerns from the DOC.

“We have introduced quite a bit of documentation for and against ordinances such as these,” he said. “Also, we have presented a very unbiased report in regards to an analysis of these ordinances. We have quite a bit of documentation and analysis that we are going to be working with for a long-period of time.”

Tapson said the city is still studying the issue.

“It has been on hold for a couple of months pending the review of background material provided to us by the DOC about whether these are effective ordinances and some of the concerns the DOC has with these ordinances,” Tapson said.

There is also another potential legal question the city will have to face. The facilities that have contracts with the DOC to house registered sex offenders are likely located within the proposed “child safety zones.”

Neither Tapson or Olson have seen the contracts, and it is unclear to them whether the contracts have an end date.

“That is another part of this that needs to be looked at carefully,” Tapson said. “Are we somehow voiding a contract? That is a legal question the city attorney needs to look at.”