De Pere, Allouez take different paths on sex offenders

Syble Hopp School in De Pere is seen, Aug. 6, 2014. (WLUK/Andrew LaCombe)

BROWN COUNTY - One issue, but two outcomes. Elected leaders in two Green Bay area communities Tuesday night took distinctively different positions on where convicted sex offenders can live.

Major restrictions are now official in Allouez, but just to the south in De Pere leaders turned down a proposed rule on the same issue.

While leaders in both communities have different views on the issue, they agree the state should set a common standard.

In De Pere, the issue of sex offender residency focused on Syble Hopp School, a school for children and young adults with developmental disabilities.

"A sex offender recently had been placed in a home nearby the school," said Larry Lueck, De Pere Alderman.

Lueck said the state Department of Corrections assigned Thomas Bouchonville to live 30 feet away from the school. In 1991, Bouchonville was convicted of sexually assaulting a child.

School parents and staff protested his residency and wanted to stop other offenders from living there.

Alderman Michael Donovan proposed the creation of a "safe zone" around the school, but the city council rejected that idea with a seven to one vote.

"We've heard from law enforcement that residency ordinances don't work, that it just drives sex offenders underground," said Lueck. "So that was one reason. The other reason was that I don't believe we should single out one school for protection. I believe we've got enough schools in the city that we want to protect all of the children."

A sweeping ordinance was passed Tuesday night in the village just north of De Pere's city limits.

In Allouez, convicted sex offenders will be prevented from living within 2,000 feet of schools, parks and other places where children gather.

The new ordinance will be published Saturday and go into effect. It covers about 96 percent of the village. The proposal passed six to one.

Concerns were raised in Allouez after residents noticed a surge in sex offenders. Allouez Village leaders attribute that increase to an equally restrictive sex offender ordinance in Green Bay.

Village board president Steve Vanden Avond and other leaders were told the number of convicted offenders living in the village has increased 140 percent over the last six years from 12 to 29.

"We also had a couple of pretty high profile cases in which when an offender was actually rejected by Green Bay, one on an appeal, and then took up residence in Allouez," said Vanden Avond. "And it really didn't sit well with the board."

Leaders in both Allouez and De Pere said the issue needs to go to the state level.

"This is getting to be like the smoking ban, where different communities have different ordinances and then all of a sudden the state stepped in and said, all right, here's what the whole state is going to do to make it easier for all of us," said Lueck.

State Rep. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere, lives a block away from Syble Hopp School.

"You know, the issue hits close to home," said Jacque.

He is also a member of the state Assembly's criminal justice committee.

"There have been legislative council study committees in past sessions, but nothing that really has addressed the issue thoroughly enough that we aren't still grappling with these issues at the local level year after year," said Jacque.

Jacque expects the topic will come up again in the next legislative session that starts in January.

"I think certainly there's going to be some attention on the issue," he said.

The new ordinance in Allouez will not force current convicted offenders to move. The ordinance also will not let offenders appeal the rule. Green Bay allows people to request an appeal.

Meanwhile, Lueck said he has concerns about the impact of Allouez' ordinance on De Pere. However, he said De Pere hasn't been impacted since Green Bay created its ordinance in 2007.

"We asked the police chief that question last night, and he said he didn't see a huge influx once Green Bay passed their ordinance," said Lueck. "Now, again it certainly is always concerning when a community next to you says, we're now passing an ordinance saying, for the most part, they can't live there."