Police Crackdown on Sex Offenders on Halloween Is Pointless, Say Critics

In an effort to make Halloween safer for children roaming the streets in search of candy, police officers around the country are visiting the homes of sex offenders and, in some cases, even locking them up for the night, reflecting a take-no-chances approach toward sex offenders on the only night of the year where children visit the homes of strangers, despite evidence that the extra precautions are unnecessary.

In Virgina, they call it "Operation Porch Lights Out," and registered sex offenders are monitored by the Virginia Department of Corrections and the local police to make sure they comply with special Halloween rules which prohibit them from decorating their homes with Halloween decorations, answering the door to children, or even, as the name of the program suggests, keeping their porch light on, the Leesburg Patch reports.

In Milwuakee, a similar program entitled "Operation Trick or Treat" monitors registered sex offenders in the area, while also including radom police checks on the homes of people on the sex offender registry, according to WISN.com.

In the Chicago area, police are using Halloween as a way to keep tabs on sex offenders by requiring them to visit their local police precinct to re-register as sex offenders, take a new photo, read or view any necessary educational material, and update new personal information such as address and employment, says the Chicago Sun-Times. In addition, police will conduct random checks on sex offenders to make sure they are in compliance with other rules and regulations.

In Los Angeles, police have required since 1994 that sex offenders do not answer their door to children on Halloween, in what officials call "Operation Boo." This year, however, the LAPD is enacting a new policy aimed at homeless sex offenders, which requires that they be taken into custody for the night, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Strict measures against sex offenders at Halloween have been going on for quite some time, with varying severity in different states. According to the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA), sex offenders in Tennessee are not allowed to attend costume parties. In New Jersey, sex offenders can get up to three years in jail if caught giving candy to children on Halloween.

However, some observers say the measures are simply unnecessary.

"This is not a real danger. It's pure hype," said Pastor David Hess of the West Henrietta Baptist Church in West Henrietta, N.Y., in an interview with WHAM Rochester.

Hess, who is also the New York State representative of SO Hopeful, an organization that seeks to enact "effective laws that prevent sex crimes against children and others," said that the real danger is most likely to occur at home.

"I am sure that there are more children that will be molested in their own homes tonight than will be molested while trick or treating," he said, also pointing out that less than two percent of registered sex offenders commit a sexual crime a second time.

Aside from a low recidivism rate among sex offenders, a 2009 study by the ATSA found that "no increased rate (of sexual abuse) on or just before Halloween was found, and Halloween incidents did not evidence unusual case characteristics."

Nevertheless, many parents and law enforcement feel that the extra safety measures are a simple example of "better safe than sorry."

Sheriff Tom Dart of Cook County told the Chicago Sun-Times that the precautions are all about safety.

"Halloween is a time of fun for children, and we want to make sure that...we are doing what we can to ensure the safety of kids out trick or treating, and to make sure the sex offenders within our jurisdiction understand that we will be watching them," he said.