JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Who will open the front door to the house where your child is trick-or-treating? Law enforcement in every neighborhood wants to make sure that door is not answered by a registered sex offender or sexual predator.
In Duval County, there are 2,081 registered sex offenders and predators who live in almost every neighborhood. On nights like Halloween where children are going door-to-door for candy, police are tightening the rules.
"I see them all the time, they pass here every day," said Patricia Holland, who lives on the Eastside.
Holland says she knows of four sexual offenders who live right around the corner from her house. She was very surprised to learn the I-TEAM found at least 148 sex offenders within a 1-mile radius of her neighborhood on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's website.
"What do you tell your kids about strangers and people like that?" the I-TEAM asked Holland
"Don't talk to them. Don't have anything to say to them. If they say anything to you, just walk away. If they're coming towards you, run," she said.
Holland says she worries that Halloween presents an enticing opportunity for sex offenders because of the number of kids out at night trick-or-treating and knocking on strangers' doors. Police with Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Sex Offender Tracking Unit agree -- which is why they'll be knocking, too.
"We'll start conducting sweeps of the city. And we have basically pre-planned operations where all sexual predators and all sexual offenders who have victims that are children get checked to make sure they have no enticing decorations or anything like that at their house," explained Sgt. J.C. Ladue with JSO's Sex Offender Tracking Unit.
When night falls October 31 in Duval County, JSO says the lights at the homes of registered sex offenders and predators have to be completely turned off. Offenders and predators are not allowed to have pumpkins or any other Halloween decorations. They are also required to post a sign outside -- meant to deter children and their parents.
"Do they have to put the sign out though, that says no candy here, or is it just still putting nothing that entices children?" the I-TEAM asked Ladue.
"It's one of those mixed bags," he explained. "The sign needs to be put up, but if the house is completely dark, it's away from the road, there's no way it could entice a child, we're not going to have the detective actually go up to check for the sign. If there is a porch light up, we will have a detective go up and make sure the sign's there, there's nobody home -- that type of thing. So, it's one of the secondary things we'll look for. We basically want a dark house."
Mackenzie Partin is a new mom and lives on the Eastside of Jacksonville.
"I heard when I first moved in to be careful because there's a house full of them down there," said Partin.
Now that she has a child to protect, Partin says she looks at life differently. According to the FDLE website, Partin lives across the street from a duplex where 13 sex offenders are registered with the state. She says a strong police presence on Halloween is critical.
"A lot of people's parents aren't with their kids, you know what I'm saying, and they just let them go out and do their thing and they don't keep a close enough eye on them," said Partin.
"Is there one side of town that has more sex offenders than the other?" the I-TEAM asked.
"Typically the western side of town has more," said Ladue.
Why the Westside? Police says it's more rural allowing sex offenders and predators to follow the law that keeps them from living too close to where children gather.
With so much at risk, law enforcement in Duval, Clay and St. Johns Counties are teaming up with state and federal probation officers for Halloween as well.
"Do you find that most of the offenders are okay with following the rules?" the I-TEAM asked Cmdr. Chuck Mulligan with the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office.
"For the majority, I would say yes, but obviously we do file on individuals who fail to register, individuals who fail to register -- individuals who have claimed a residency in one particular location, but then find that they want to spend the weekends elsewhere in the community. And so, we get tips on that from time to time, and we will pursue those and wherever the law is applicable we will apply it," Mulligan said.
Florida has a state law that all sex offenders and predators must follow, but Duval and St. Johns have specific ordinances laying out the rules for Halloween. See links to those ordinances below:
If you live in Clay County, the Clay County Sheriff's Office tells the I-TEAM, while the county does not have a specific ordinance for Halloween, it is partnering with Parole and Probation from the state's office to go around and check to make sure kids stay safe.
If you live in Nassau County, the Nassau County Sheriff's Office says every year the Sheriff's Office places signs outside the homes of registered sexual predators to alert people that a predator lives there. However, although there is no specific ordinance in this county, the Sheriff's Office says neither sexual offenders nor predators are allowed to participate on Halloween.
If you live in Baker County, the Baker County Sheriff's Office says, the county does not have a specific ordinance for Halloween, but sex offender investigators will be tracking offenders to know where they are on the holiday.
How to use the FDLE Sexual Offender and Predator Database
The FDLE Sexual Offender and Predator Database allows you to search in your neighborhood, by putting in your address, your zip code and then selecting anywhere from a 1/4-mile to a 5-mile radius. When you get to the website:
- Click the red "Offender Search" tab
- Go to the green "Neighborhood Search" section and click "Standard"
- Type in your address
- Pick either the "City" or "ZIP Code" button and then type in that information
- Select the radius you wish to search in the dropdown window (1/4 mile, 1/2 mile, 1 mile, 2 mile, 3 mile, 4 mile, 5 mile)
- Pick either "List" or "Map" (however you wish the information to be displayed)
- Click the "Search" button to show results