GREEN BAY – It’s now easier to look up where registered sex offenders live in Wisconsin.
The state recently enhanced its offender registry website, but some worry the changes could lead to those on the list being targeted.
Since 2001, you could search the state’s sex offender registry by name or zip code. Now you can also enter a specific address and search for registered offenders who live within a one, two or three-mile radius.
Erica McDonald works for the Department of Corrections and maintains the offender list for Brown, Marinette and Oconto counties.
“Awareness makes our communities safer,” said McDonald. “Hopefully, more and more of the public will become aware of this tool and use it to keep their families safe.”
The revamped website also includes maps and a new community notification system. You can sign up for alerts to find out when an offender registers at an address you’re interested in, like your home or a school.
“You just put in your email, you agree and you register,” explained McDonald.
A national corporation called Reform Sex Offender Laws opposes public registries. It worries making names easier to find, will lead to people targeting sex offenders.
“We would anticipate that there would be greater incidents of assaults targeting people on the registry,” said spokesperson Sandy Rozek.
Last November, Door County investigators said a man’s home was set on fire because he’s a registered sex offender.
No one was hurt, but police said it could have been worse. One man has already been sentenced to nine months in jail for the crime, and another man will be sentenced in July.
“It just makes sense to make this available on the Internet,” said Jason Weber, a community liaison officer for the Town of Menasha Police Department.
Weber says it’s never been an issue in his town. He doesn’t believe that will change.
“I’ve been in law enforcement here 24 years, and we haven’t had that,” he said.
“Any harassment is illegal,” added McDonald.
The website does include a disclaimer, explaining it is intended for informational purposes only.
There are other websites where you can look up sex offender information, but that data comes from the state. McDonald says the state’s website is the most accurate source.