Parents already worry about razor-spiked apples and poisoned candy when they send their kids out trick-or-treating on Halloween. Now, there's a growing concern that children could unwittingly be seeking treats from sex offenders living in the neighborhood. In communities across the country, local officials are taking steps to keep sex offenders away from kids on Halloween night.
Communities in several states are requiring offenders to report to county offices for educational or counseling programs, while others are going so far as to bar registered sex offenders on probation from answering their door to trick-or-treaters or putting so much as a pumpkin on their porch.
About 45 registered Level 2 and 3 sex offenders who live in Westchester County, just north of New York City, will receive special invitations to attend an educational program between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Oct. 31, under an initiative spearheaded by Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano. Those who don't attend will receive a personal visit from probation officers and police. Level 1 sex offenders and those on probation who have committed crimes of a sexual nature will also receive a home visit, according to a statement released by Spano's office.
"We've done home visits on Halloween nights in the past, but this is the first year that we've asked sex offenders on probation to come in to our offices," said Victoria Hochman, assistant communications director for the county executive.
Hochman said kids present the same temptation to sex offenders that alcohol presents to alcoholics. Rather than have sex offenders at home and in the position to be tempted by parades of children coming to their doors, Hochman said, the county will offer probationers something constructive and hopefully put parents at ease.
The Halloween initiative does not come in response to a spike in molestations or abductions on the holiday, however. "We have never had an incident on Halloween night," Hochman said. But highly publicized cases of brutal child abductions in recent years have heightened citizen activism and put pressure on local authorities to monitor sex offenders more closely. Westchester County was also the first in the state to use active Global Positioning System bracelets on sex offenders under the supervision of its probation department.
"Given the high recidivism rates with this type of crime, people are very concerned. This could provide some relief for people," Hochman said.
Officials Take a Pre-emptive Approach to Protect Kids
New Jersey's state parole board is hoping to put communities at ease by imposing a curfew on some 2,200 sex offenders it supervises. The offenders must be indoors by 7 p.m. on Halloween evening, and cannot answer their doors if trick-or-treaters come calling. The rules also bar them from attending parties where there are children, and from taking any children -- including their own -- out trick-or-treating.
In Parker County, Texas, just west of Fort Worth, 42 registered sex offender probationers will be required to spend the evening at county offices.
As in Westchester, however, the Halloween initiative is a pre-emptive one. "We're taking a proactive approach, instead of waiting or seeing if anything happens," said Mike Stack, Parker County probation director. Stack said he's not aware of any specific incidents of molestations on Halloween.
Stack noted that the program also serves the interest of sex offenders. "We're protecting offenders from false accusations. ... We're not stiff-arming anybody, and it's not an additional punishment," he said, noting that probationers are already required to keep regular contact with his offices.
Stack said other Texas communities have implemented similar Halloween night programs for several years, and response from communities has been positive. "I have not received a complaint," he said.
Area residents who spoke with ABC News' affiliate WFAA about the initiative agreed.
Weatherford resident Troy Dickey, who has decorated his yard for area trick-or-treaters, said he thinks the plan to keep offenders off the streets is a good one. "They ought to be locked up," Dickey told WFAA. "That's good for everybody."
In addition to requiring probationers -- those who have not served time for their crimes -- to report to their offices, Stack said officials will also check the homes of parolee sex offenders on Halloween to make sure they have their lights out and aren't displaying decorations to entice trick-or-treaters.
Parents Take Charge
A statewide initiative in Ohio is encouraging parents to take a proactive approach themselves to keep their trick-or-treaters away from sex offenders' homes. Attorney General Jim Petro teamed up with a Cleveland-area Parent Teacher Association to put together a Halloween safety checklist. At the top of that checklist was a visit to Petro's Web site where parents can search Ohio's electronic Sex Offender Registration and Notification database to find out if there are sex offenders in their neighborhood.
"It's the first year we're doing Halloween safety tips and specifically focusing on sex offenders," said spokesman Bob Beasley.
Beasley attributes parents' heightened concern to the national attention child abduction cases have received in recent years. "Sex offenders tend to be recidivists, and we hope parents will make the effort to be aware of who lives in their neighborhood. The tool is good year-round, but Halloween is a good time to remind people," he said.
Beasley offered perhaps the most practical advice for parents with trick-or-treaters. "Go out with your child. That's the important thing. Being a good parent."