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Residency ordinance could greatly restrict where registered sex offenders could live in Willmar

WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council tabled a proposed city ordinance Monday night that would restrict where registered sexual offenders could live in the city. The ordinance will be brought back to a future Community Development committee meeting...

WILLMAR - The Willmar City Council tabled a proposed city ordinance Monday night that would restrict where registered sexual offenders could live in the city. The ordinance will be brought back to a future Community Development committee meeting.
“I’m struggling with this a little bit, what is the correct thing to do?” Council member Audrey Nelsen said. She and Council member Ron Christianson both wondered if the council was ready to make a decision on the ordinance.
The main question is how restrictive to make the ordinance. The draft ordinance calls for a 500-foot restriction zone around all churches, schools, parks, public playgrounds and licensed day care center in the city limits. Registered sex offenders would not be allowed to live within those zones.
Many other cities with such ordinances have 1,000-foot or larger restriction zones. However, there are concerns about possible legal ramifications for being too restrictive.
“There is no definite answer to that question,” City Attorney Robert Scott said.
Registered offenders who currently live in what would be restricted areas would not be forced to move. Also if a registered sex offender lives in a neighborhood that is currently open, but then becomes restricted, the offender would not be forced to move. If a protected class such as a church or licensed day care center moves into an open area, that would stop new offenders from moving into that area.
Maps showing 250-, 500-, 750- and 1,000-foot restrictive areas were presented to the council.
“It makes a big difference,” Christianson said.
As the restrictive zones got larger, there were fewer open areas for registered offenders to live legally.
“There aren’t many places left in the city. Can we put some sort of density restrictions. How do we prevent that? We’re forcing them into those areas,” Council member Denis Anderson said.
“There is a lot of land outside in the country,” Council Member Steve Ahmann said.
Council member Shawn Mueske said he believes sex crimes against children are the most evil, but worries that such an ordinance might just be moving the problem to another part of the city. He also said criminals don’t necessarily act where they live. Instead they could just drive to those places that are supposed to be protected by the ordinance.
“It’s a false sense of security. I know this is a very large issue. Making the entire city blue makes some difficulties,” Mueske said, adding he is still in fact-finding mode.
A public hearing will need to be held before the council can act on the ordinance.
Willmar Police Chief Jim Felt said that WIllmar currently has three Level 3 offenders, though one is currently in the county jail. There are 20 to 25 Level 2 offenders living in the city. Felt didn’t have the number of Level 1s.
The Minnesota Department of Corrections defines Level 3 offenders as the most likely to reoffend. Level 2 have a moderate risk of reoffending while Level 1s have a low risk.

RELATED STORY:

Willmar to consider restricting residency of registered sex offenders

Related Topics: WILLMAR CITY COUNCIL
Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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