By Matt Smith
Green Bay - In 2007 the Green Bay City Council approved an ordinance prohibiting sex offenders from living within a vast majority of the city unless approved by the Sex Offender Residence Board.
Meeting monthly, the five-member board determines on a case-by-case basis whether convicted sex offenders should be allowed to live within city limits.
Five years later the effectiveness of that ordinance is being questioned.
"It's not making it any easier on police to find people," Green Bay Police Chief Jim Arts said. "It's not making it any easier on Department of Corrections who's supposed to be supervising for them to supervise their folks, and it's not making it any easier for the community not knowing where these folks are."
The law prohibits sex offenders from freely living within 2,000 of where kids gather -- like schools, parks, or churches -- which encompasses nearly the entire city.
Since offenders must be released in the county where their crime was committed, proponents of the ordinance back when it passed argued the city had become a haven for offenders to live.
"The idea was the State of Wisconsin needed to do something and they weren't," said Brad Hopp, chairman of the board at its inception. "At first we had our learning curves. You have to remember, we were the first city to ever have a board of this type."
According to data from the city, 357 appeals have been heard by the board -- some from offenders appearing multiple times. Of those, the board has approved 225 to live within the city -- 70 of those to a Department of Corrections-run transitional home -- while 132 have been denied.
"There's various reasons why we approve," current chairman Dean Gerondale said. "Whether it's a Romeo and Juliet situation, they've lived in our community for 20 years and have a family and decided to move to a different residence."
Now Assistant City Attorney Kail Decker is reviewing the data and says change could happen very soon -- not because of the offenders who are appearing before the board but those who aren't.
Numbers from the Department of Corrections show a jump in referrals to the Brown County District Attorney's Office for sex offenders who no longer report where they live.
- 2006: 11 referrals
- 2007: 14 referrals
- 2008: 38 referrals
- 2009: 41 referrals
- 2010: 43 referrals
- 2011: 41 referrals
"The major issue is that our office is facing is somehow getting an ordinance in place that the DOC can comply with, that offenders can comply with, that the landlords can comply with," Decker said.
But critics point to the Department of Corrections, accusing the agency of not doing everything to comply with the city's ordinance.
"This is where the issue has come," Gerondale said. "We've denied several people and the DOC officers then are having problems finding a place for them to live, and unfortunately they've gone out and found a place for them to live and approved them in the city of Green Bay and not told us."
Both in statements and interviews to Action 2 News, the Department of Corrections maintains it's "committed" to following all local regulations, adding in a statement that "DOC agents are in a catch-22 situation: allow sex offenders to go homeless and roam in or out of a city, or keep the offenders in stable housing as they pursue ordinance approval so they can be properly tracked and supervised and the public can be protected."
"Are we aware of people that have not been approved?" Department of Corrections Field Supervisor Jed Neuman said. "It has happened, but our responsibility is to instruct them and tell them to get in compliance, and that's what we have done."
A proposal, which will go before the city's Protection and Welfare Committee, is expected at the end of March.