A sex offender expert with the Wisconsin Department of Corrections on Monday discouraged the Harmony Town Board from passing an ordinance restricting where sex offenders could live in the town.
The town board later tabled its proposed ordinance again during a lengthy meeting.
The sex offender ordinance was proposed after board members learned that multiple sex offenders were living in the former Pine Tree Inn, 4544 W. Highway 14, which is now operated by the Jessie Crawford Recovery Center.
Sex offender registration specialist Robert Fugate said about 93% of child sex offenders know their victims, and more than three-quarters of adult sex offenders know their victims.
“Stranger-on-stranger incidences are very rare, and they garner a lot more media attention because of how rare they actually are,” he said.
Fugate said he used to work in Walworth County, which has many sex offender ordinances. In communities with such ordinances, the rate of homelessness increases for offenders, he said.
For example, if an offender’s family moves to a town that has a residency ordinance, that offender cannot live there.
“Most likely, they’re going to have to go to another unstable environment for them to reside,” Fugate said.
Without a place to live, the offender might become homeless, he said.
“When you look at a map of where registered sex offenders live, those are addresses that you know where they live,” Fugate said. “You know they live in your neighborhood. You may not like that, but you know where they live.
“When somebody reports to the register that they are homeless, they will not show up on that map because they don’t have a residence that they’re reporting.”
Instead, offenders might move from place to place.
“The other thing to keep in mind is, with an ordinance, that dictates where someone can reside,” Fugate said. “It doesn’t mean that they can’t go to that same address.”
An offender can visit an address for an entire day and not violate the ordinance, he said. He pointed out that those visits will not show up on any sex offender registry map.
“You’re not going to see that that’s the address that they are registered to be living at,” Fugate said. “You don’t know who they are. Sex offenders (who) can live in anonymity and in the shadows are what we do not want, because when you don’t know who somebody is and what they’re about, that’s when your guard comes down.”
If the town board passes an ordinance, he said, “You’re going to see, maybe not right away, but eventually you may start seeing those dots disappear, and you think you’ve got it. They’re gone.
“They’re just not showing up on the map. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they (offenders) are gone. Again, I understand the concern, but in my mind, having that knowledge gives me more information than not knowing where they are.”
Town board Chairman Jeff Klenz replied, “As a board, we’re trying to make sure that everybody’s safe.”
He added: “We also want to keep our property values up there.”