Heat advisory issued for all of SE Wisconsin from noon Thursday to 11 p.m. Friday

Perfectly legal: Sex offenders living inside child safety zones the norm in Wisconsin; otherwise, they’d be homeless

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

BROOKFIELD -- Riding along a recreational trail in Brookfield, you can zero in on a townhouse -- the home of a registered sex offender named Zack.

Recreational trail in Brookfield

Recreational trail in Brookfield

Brookfield has a 1,500 foot child safety zone around every school, park, playground, daycare, and trail. But Zack pointed out: “There's a walking trail that goes along my residence.”

Zack lives inside a prohibited safety zone, yet his case isn't rare.  It's common.

In fact, FOX6 has discovered, it's the norm.

Municipalities have ordinances restricting where sex offenders can live. Most people support the idea because it helps us feel safe, but what the politicians who passed the rules probably didn't tell you is that sex offenders who lived near a school, park, playground, daycare or other protected place before the ordinance, can stay there. In fact, they almost have to.

Sex offender residency ordinances

Sex offender residency ordinances

Sex offender residency ordinance - Brown Deer

Sex offender residency ordinance - Brown Deer

Sex offender residency ordinance Greenfield

Sex offender residency ordinance Greenfield

Sex offender residency ordinance West Allis

Sex offender residency ordinance West Allis

“I didn't know that. That’s interesting and creepy,” a stunned daycare operator said to FOX6 when we told her about this.

She assumed the sex offender residency ordinance in the city was supposed to keep offenders away from her daycare, not force them to live near it.

In recent years, municipalities across the state have been racing to one-up each other with increasingly strict Child Safety Zones.

The premise is that sex offenders shouldn't live near places children play, but the real reason is that each municipality is afraid if it doesn't draw up buffer zones, sex offenders from places that do have restrictions will pack up and move in.

Milwaukee Alderman Tony Zielinski

Milwaukee Alderman Tony Zielinski

Milwaukee Alderman Tony Zielinski introduced that city’s ordinance.

“If you don't have these ordinances, you're going to be a dumping ground," Zielinski said.

With sprawling 2,000 foot safety zones, Milwaukee has managed to move newly released sex offenders right off the map. As FOX6 has documented, the only sex offenders living in the handful of tiny pockets outside the safety zones are homeless.  Every single sex offender with an address in the city of Milwaukee lives inside the safety zones -- hundreds of them.

Sex offender residency ordinance -- Milwaukee

Sex offender residency ordinance -- Milwaukee

They’re grandfathered in because they lived there before the ordinance took effect, but they're grandfathered in only to their exact address.  If the offender leaves that address, they lose their grandfathered status and can no longer live in the buffer zone.  In Milwaukee and many other municipalities, that means if they move, they'll be homeless, so they're essentially forced to stay in the same place, even if it’s right across the street from a daycare.

The Learning Spot on East Keefe

The Learning Spot on East Keefe

FOX6 News pointed out to the operator at The Learning Spot on East Keefe, there are three registered sex offenders living within direct sight of her daycare.  There are also three living next to Columbia playground between Burleigh and Chambers.

The Learning Spot on East Keefe

The Learning Spot on East Keefe

Schools are no exception.

An offender lives kitty corner from North Division High School, across the street from LaFolette K-8, and a few feet from the playground at Shalom Alternative.  FOX6 mapped the location of every sex offender in the city and found dozens living within direct view of the very places the buffer zones aim to protect.

But  the ordinance that forces them to stay there may not even be necessary.

Minnesota sex offender study

Minnesota sex offender study

The data from a 12-year study in Minnesota found of the 224 sex offenders who re-offended in that period, not one of their crimes would have been prevented by residency restrictions. The vast majority of re-offenders -- 79 percent -- already knew their victim. Of the rest, only two actually contacted young victims at a spot surrounded by a buffer zone, and in both cases, it was more than 10 miles from where the offender lived. Of the few who did re-offend close to home, not a single one did so near a school, daycare, park, playground, or other protected place.

Pattie Coffey

Pattie Coffey

Pattie Coffey studies sex offenders and has looked into the minds of many.

“(Sex offender residency ordinances) seem like they make sense, just from a common sense perspective, but I think if people just think about it, even pretty briefly, they`ll realize, `Huh, that`s not really going to make any of us safer.' They have all kinds of ways to get access to victims. They can move around in a way that I think we just have to acknowledge as fact, even though it may make us uncomfortable," Coffey said.

It makes us uncomfortable, in part, because we tend to assume sex offenders are certain to do it again, but an exhaustive study by the state here in Wisconsin reveals recidivism rates for sex offenders are remarkably low.  More than 16 percent of the overall criminal population re-offends within three years.

For sex offenders, it’s 1.5 percent.

Sex offender recidivism

Sex offender recidivism

Sex offender recidivism

Sex offender recidivism

The gap gets even greater as time goes on. Within 15 years of freedom, more than 46 percent of the general criminal population has re-offended -- a rate eight times higher than sex offenders.

“They're really some of our lowest risk individuals in terms of re-offending," Coffey said.

There is, however, one thing that experts insist does increase the chances an offender will commit another sex crime -- the very residency restrictions we believe are keeping us safe.


“When we put these restrictions on people that make it difficult for them to reintegrate into society, they have reason to feel hopeless, “ Coffey said.

And when sex offenders feel hopeless and have nothing to lose, they’re more likely to act out sexually.


In Brookfield, 27-year-old Zack lives with his mom. He wants to move out, but has no hope he’ll be able to until he’s 42, when he gets removed from the Sex Offender Registry, so like other sex offenders living near sensitive areas inside safety zones, he's stuck without hope, right next to a trail in a child safety zone.


  • Opinion8d

    How strange that people are concerned about sex offenders and the threat that they pose -even though they have served their time, but will riot to open our boards to anyone that wants to come in -regardless of vetting. Where are the lefties fighting for the sex offenders?!?!? (this is not meant towards those that oppose sex offenders and want strong vetting of immigrants/refugees).

  • malcolm X




  • TNF 13

    Did you read any of the statistics cited in this article? Not to mention the fact that 35.6% of child molesters are juveniles, most sex offenders do not reoffend. Why shoot them? Please pay attention to the facts: That is what keeps children safe, not fear and hysteria.

    • Tiredofdouchbags

      You must be a molester. Your part of the problem, trying to humanize these monsters. Maybe u should be sexually violated and then you might get it. Stop being stupid!!!

    • TNF 13

      Dear Tiredof,
      Child sexual abuse is perpetrated by human beings. 90% of abuse is perpetrated by those known and trusted in the community, and 95% is perpetrated by those with no criminal record. The painful reality is that child abusers are human, and we only view them as monsters after the abuse comes to light. In the meantime, they appear to be perfectly normal human beings and we are none the wiser because we expect abusers to act and look like monsters.

      I have experienced child sexual abuse, and that is why I say that child sexual abuse must be prevented before it can happen. Please look into the facts of this issue more so that you can keep the children in your life safe.

      TNF 13
      Advocate for the Primary Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse

    • Joanne Smieja

      Thank you TNF 13 for trying to educate Tiredof. I am a victim of child abuse. Similar to you I know that these residence restrictions do nothing to protect us. It’s time we look at what works and what doesn’t work. We need to be smart about how we use our limited resources. Please continue to educate when possible. Tiredof may not be willing to accept the facts but it’s important the facts are disseminated.

    • Shelly Stow

      We already incarcerate a disproportionate amount of the world’s prisoners, many of whom do not need to be locked up. We spend huge amounts of resources on things like incarceration for minor infractions of rules and on things that do not contribute toward public safety like public registries. When are we going to actually put safety before revenge and victims ahead of perpetual punishment?

  • mike r

    hey guess what I am one of those monsters you claim we all are for talking to an underage girl over the Internet with whom i never had any physical contact with almost 15years ago and guess what I haven’t reoffended or even considered reoffending and I’m in Sacramento California where we have no residency restrictions or presence restrictions or Internet restrictions. The fact is is that none of these failed policies have achieved any positive results and have absolutely nothing to do with why I haven’t reoffended. if I wanted to reoffend I would care less about any of these laws and not one of them would prevent me from doing so…thats a fact …these laws only affect those individuals who want to be law bidding citizens and have no effect on the monsters you claim all of us are who are considering to commit another sex offense…zero effect…just so you know i did my time finished extensive parole without any incidents payed off my $15000 child support and am in my sixth semester of college. I am a father and grandfather an uncle and brother engaged to be married and all these people love me from the bottom of their hearts…does this sound like a monster that needs to be shot or locked up forever??? if anyone says yes then you have absolutely no interest in facts and have absolutely no humanity left in your cold dead hearts…I do agree with you that those who attack and rape children or adults should be locked up and subjected to intensive treatment before ever having a chance to be released and if they reoffend lock em up and throw away the key…but do you really want our limited law enforcement resources wasted on a guy like me or would you rather have that money put into monoriting the high risk offenders and into programs that actually help prevent sexual abuse before it happens??

  • Derek Logue of OnceFallen

    Residency laws have proven time and time and time and time again they do not work. Now, the idiots you cheeseheads elected into office didn’t listen to the facts before passing the law, and now your situation is almost as bad as that of Miami, which became an international embarrassment after they forced registered citizens to live under the Julia Tuttle Causeway. Wisconsin needs to pass a law abolishing the local residency ordinances plaguing the state. That is the ONLY solution to this mess.

    • Lerek Dogue

      Derek Logue was 24 when he molested an 11 year old girl. He had known her since he was 3. Wonder how many times this occurred before he was caught? After he was released from prison, be began ranting online about being on the sex offender registry, blaming the 11 year old girl. He likes to threaten people with physical violence. He is a disgusting pedophile and a danger to society and especially children. He needs to be locked in a cage for life.

  • Timothy Moore

    Finally, a news outlet that promotes facts, not myths when it comes to the most misunderstood group of citizens in this country today. Great job.

  • Sandy Rozek

    Thanks to Fox News and to these journalists for doing their homework and getting the facts and presenting this story and situation truthfully rather than sensationally.

  • Will A

    Americans do not support “s*x offender” residency “restrictions”, more appropriately known as residency harassments. There is overwhelming empirical evidence that they are not effective. They have also caused innocent people, including children, to be murdered. It is a blatant lie to say that residency harassments are to “protect children”.

    Further, these harassments are applied to hundreds of thousands of people who have never laid a hand on anyone or harmed a child. In direct contrast, there is absolutely no reason or excuse that if these harassments exist then they certainly should be applied to millions more people. For example, there is no person with a brain who will argue that the harassments should not apply equally to people who have shot people. They don’t even apply to people who have shot children at a school!!

    The criminal regimes that have residency harassments have no excuse that they did not simply include those millions more people. Simply write in “if you have been convicted of shooting someone, are included.”

    It is a blatant lie to say that residency harassments are to “protect children”. Are we all just going to accept that and be complicit? Throughout the entire history of the U.S. we have always had a hated minority to whom we have applied un-American, immoral, illegal, and idiotic harassments. It is not PC any longer to do it to “coloreds” and not even Muslims today, but we all have the “s*x offenders” that we can harass.

    Nanny big governments are more than happy to lie and spew “s*x offender” propaganda. It shows just how much you need big government. But it is far past time to actually find some morals and shut down the criminal regimes and their witch hunt. Demand that they pay attention to facts and reality.

  • Will A

    The people listed on the Nanny Big Government S*x Offender Registries are not “s*x offenders” and these are not “child safety zones”. Both labels are inaccurate.

  • Dennis

    Everyone who’s bothered to study the subject at all knows that residency restrictions do no good, but trying to get legislators to listen is like pulling teeth. They are stuck in the 1990’s when sex offenders were just a punching bag that could always be counted on to elicit votes.

  • ron

    sex offenses are relationship based. They have nothing to do with where an offender lives. Why do you think so many teachers, coaches and school staff are always on the news for sexual relations with students. In fact each year there are about 700 of them in the united states, There has never been any record in history of an offender entering a school or school grounds to commit a sex crime.

Comments are closed.

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.