People living near violent sex offenders push for changes to state's Chapter 980 law

NOW: People living near violent sex offenders push for changes to state’s Chapter 980 law

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Kristine Knickmeier, Kelly Kopecky and Tom Hergert did not know each other before last summer, but are now united in a fight to make changes to how violent sex offenders are placed under the state's Chapter 980 law. 

Knickmeier lives in Stoughton. She can see one home housing violent sex offenders out her front door. There's another down the road. 

"It does affect people and you never know the next time there’s a for sale sign, who’s moving in," she said. 

She started looking into the law in 2014 and got in touch with Kopecky after seeing her concerns when two violent sex offenders were placed in her neighborhood in August 2019. 

"It just doesn’t seem right, not just because he can see in my yard or because I have another one half a mile away or anything like that, she’s going through the same problems, they’re all going through the same problems, something has to change," said Kopecky. 

Chapter 980 oversees the civil commitments of sexual violent persons. 

In Kopecky's case, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm said in 2000, his office initiated a Chapter 980 proceeding so that one of the violent sex offenders living near her could be civilly committed as long as doctors said he was a sexually violent person, and that allowed him to keep the man off the streets of Milwaukee for an additional 20 years. 

"This is the end of a very long process that ultimately returns somebody to the community that you don't want returned to your community. There's no way of sugar coating that, so I'm not going to sugar coat it," Chisholm said at a community notification meeting, "What I can tell you, and what I'm here to tell you, at the end of that long process results, ultimately in determination by a judge, that this person is appropriate to be released back into the community."

After that meeting, Kopecky started researching, reaching out to legislators, and speaking with others who were also upset with placement in their neighborhoods. 

"Everywhere these placements are being made the neighborhoods are up in arms," said Tom Hergert. 

They shared some of their concerns with CBS 58. They would like more transparency and open public involvement of the placing of the sex offenders, including notification and meetings prior to the placements. They would like authorities to consider the proximity to other sexual violent offenders when placing them, as well as the history of the families neighboring the homes, like considering their mental health or history of any abuse, rape or violence. There are also concerns with how long designated homes will be housing violent sex offenders and how these homes impact their property values. They also have safety concerns. 

They've also been working with their lawmakers to make some amendments to Chapter 980 based on their experiences. A draft is in the very early stages. 

"There are some good changes as long as they make it to the final bill," said Kopecky. 

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