Halloween safety: Check your trick-or-treating route for sex offenders

County-by-county breakdown of Halloween rules for sex offenders

Anyone is able to look up predators in their neighborhoods on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement website.

Whether you trick-or-treat in your own neighborhood or gather with friends and family for a community event, it's good to plan ahead and check the area for your child's safety.

How well lit is it? Will cars be driving by? Are there sidewalks along the streets?

One question you might not think to add to your safety check: Are there any sex offenders on your trick-or-treating route?

But it's a pretty easy one to answer.

The FDLE Sexual Offender and Predator Database allows anyone to search where offenders might be in their neighborhood, by putting in their address, ZIP code and then selecting anywhere from a 1/4-mile to a 5-mile radius. 

Jump to rules for your county: Duval, St. Johns, Nassau, Clay,
Flagler, Putnam, Baker, Bradford, Columbia, Union

Here are the steps to search for nearby offenders:

  • Go to the FDLE database (Click here).
  • Type your address into the neighborhood search.
  • Select the radius you wish to search in the drop-down window (1/4 mile, 1/2 mile, 1 mile, 2 mile, 3 mile, 4 mile, 5 mile).
  • Click the "Search" button to show results.
  • If you click on an icon on the map, it will show a pop-up box with the name, address and picture of the offender or predator.
  • You can also switch to a list view by clicking "Show List." The list includes how far the offender or predator lives from you and a link to their FDLE flyer.
  • The flyer includes descriptive information, and when/why the person was labeled a predator or offender. The flyers can be downloaded as PDFs and printed.
  • The list view also offers a link to "track offender." For more information on the Florida Offender Alert System and how to sign up, click here.

The FDLE also has an app to help families track when sex offenders move into a neighborhood.

To download the free app, search “FDLE Mobile App” in the Google Play Store or “FDLE” in the Apple App Store. FDLE reminds users the app should never be used in an emergency.

Sex offenders also have specific rules about what they can and can't do around Halloween, depending on what county they live in.

We've compiled a county-by-county breakdown of those rules and regulations below, along with what area sheriff's offices are planning as far as enforcement and alternative safe events for families. 

Duval County

In Jacksonville, there are more than 2,300 registered sexual offenders and sexual predators who live in almost every neighborhood, according to the Sheriff's Office.

On nights like Halloween, when children are going door-to-door for candy, police will be out to enforce the laws, JSO said.

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Offender Tracking Unit will be watching sexual offenders and sexual predators on Halloween evening to ensure they are adhering to the established laws, police said.

The Sheriff's Office has pre-planned operations where all sex offenders and predators will be checked to make sure they have no enticing decorations or porch lights on, and that the proper signage is displayed. Not even a carved pumpkin is allowed, police said.

The following is a list of laws that sexual offenders and sexual predators in Duval County must abide by:

  • It is unlawful for any sexual offender or sexual predator to participate in any Halloween party or event if the event targets non-familial children.
  • Any person designated as a sexual offender or sexual predator shall avoid all Halloween-related contact with children.
  • From 6 a.m. to 11:59 p.m., on Oct. 31, a sign must be posted at any sexual offender’s or sexual predator’s residence, stating, "No candy or treats here."
  • All outside residential lighting must be off during the evening hours after 5 p.m. Oct. 31.
  • No Halloween decorations can be visible from the exterior of any sexual offender's or sexual predator's residence.

There are even regulations about the size of the letters on the sign and how visible it must be from the street. 

Offenders who don't comply can face a fine of up to $500, up to 60 days in jail or both.

For more specifics on the regulations, click here.

Jacksonville police encourage parents to use the FDLE database to check their trick-or-treating area for offenders and predators.

St. Johns County

In St. Johns County, sex offenders are not permitted to participate in any holiday event that would entice children to their property, including distributing candy on Halloween or wearing costumes that might attract children.

Offenders must avoid enticing children to their homes; must post a sign that says, “No candy or treats at this residence;” must turn off all exterior lights after 5 p.m. on Halloween; and cannot display any Halloween decorations.

Any offender caught not following the ordinance in their county can face a fine of up to $500, up to 60 days in jail or both.

Cmdr. Chuck Mulligan, with the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office, said the department's SPOT team goes around the county each year on Halloween making sure those who fall under the county ordinance are complying with the rules. He said the team changes its tactics and patterns every year to be sure offenders don't know exactly when they'll be stopping by.

St. Johns County also has an option for parents to track when sex offenders move into an area. Parents can go to the SJSO Offender Watch page and put in addresses where they plan to trick-or-treat, or that they visit often or where their kids spend a lot of time, and then sign up for email alerts to be notified when sex offenders move into those areas. For more information, email spot@sjso.org.

For more on the St. Johns County rules, click here

Nassau County

Sex offenders in Nassau County are not permitted to participate in any holiday event involving children, including distributing candy on Halloween or wearing costumes that might attract children.

Offenders must avoid all contact with children related to Halloween; must post a sign that says, “No candy or treats at this residence;” must turn off all exterior lights after 5 p.m. on Halloween; and cannot display any Halloween decorations.

Any offender caught not following the ordinance in their county can face a fine of up to $500, up to 60 days in jail or both.

Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper said his department checks every month as well as during Halloween to be sure offenders are complying with the law.

Leeper and his detectives have also placed signs in front of the homes of convicted sexual predators to warn parents and children not to visit these houses while trick-or-treating.

The signs went up in front of 15 homes on Tuesday.

“We just want to notify our citizens that those who are sexual predators in our county, let them know where they live, and to bring there Halloween activities elsewhere," Leeper said.

Leeper said they want families to have fun but also want to be sure kids are safe on Halloween.

"Go out in the neighborhood and greet homeowners, get candy and have fun," Leeper said. "(We) just want them to be safe."

For more on the Nassau County ordinance, click here.

Clay County 

Clay County does not have a specific ordinance prohibiting offenders from participating in Halloween activities, but the Special Victims Unit of the Clay County Sheriff's Office monitors offenders and predators and will go around reminding those on parole or probation of the specific rules they are under regarding Halloween.

Clay County deputies encourage parents to check the FDLE website or go the Crime Watch page on ClaySheriff.com to search for offenders and predators who might be on their trick-or-treating route.

To find the Crime Watch page, go to ClaySheriff.com and click on Community Crime Map under the News menu.

From there, parents can type in a specific address, click the buffer option to set a radius around their home (500 feet to 5 miles), and then click the "sex/known offender" option under the "Offenders" menu to check for offenders. The map allows users to zoom in to the street level to see exactly where offenders live.

Flagler County

According to Public Affairs Officer Brittany Kershaw, Flagler County deputies are tasked with visiting the homes of the county's sex offenders who have Halloween restrictions included in their probation.

Sheriff Rick Staly said the visits will be made from Oct. 29-31.

Staly said the operation to check on offenders will be managed by FCSO’s new Sexual Offender and Predator Detective, a new position funded by a $150,000.00 grant awarded to FCSO by the Department of Justice for the SMART FY 2019 in support of the Adam Walsh Act Implementation Grant Program.

The grant will be used to fund the dedicated sexual offender and predator detective to ensure compliance of offenders.

“There are strict rules for sex offenders in order to make sure our children stay safe from them. Having a dedicated detective to oversee these offenders will send a strong message that we expect compliance and will allow us to more easily spot violations,” Staly said. “Halloween is a fun holiday for children and families, and we want to make it as safe as possible.”

The visits, which apply to 19 registered sex offenders and nine other non-sexual offenders in Flagler County, are to make sure the offenders are complying with their probation conditions, which include turning their exterior lights off, not handing out candy and not displaying any Halloween decorations.

Kershaw explained that the non-sexual offenders might have Halloween sanctions as conditions in their probation because of charges such as child abuse.

Kershaw said 131 registered sex offenders live in Flagler County, but the Halloween restrictions only apply to those listed in the annual offenders list released by the Sheriff's Office.

The list includes the offenders' photos and addresses. You can open a printable copy of the offenders list by clicking here.

The names with an asterisk are the ones who are not on sex offender probation but who do have restrictions on their regular probation regarding children/Halloween, Kershaw said.

All 28 offenders must be in their home by 4:30 p.m. on Halloween day and remain inside for the rest of the night.

Putnam County

According to Sheriff's Office spokesperson Allison Waters-Merritt, deputies have been making contact with sexual predators and sex offenders in Putnam County in the weeks leading up to Halloween.

They will follow up with spot-checks on Halloween and will be checking addresses for all registered offenders to make sure they are complying with state laws.

She said sex offenders and predators on probation are required to follow specific terms regarding holidays, which can vary by case. Those found to not be in compliance can be charged with violating their probation.

Baker County 

Maj. Randy Crews said sex offenders and predators in Baker County are not permitted to give out candy or display decorations and must have their exterior lights off on Halloween night. 

Crews said the Baker County Sheriff's Office partners with the felony probation team in the county to check on offenders and predators who are on probation and make sure they are following the guidelines assigned to them. 

Crews said the Sheriff's Office reviewed its list of registered offenders in the area and none are currently living in neighborhoods frequented by trick-or-treaters.

Bradford County 

Capt. Dawn McKinley, who works at the Bradford County Jail, said flyers are sent to all sex offenders in the area reminding them not to turn their porch lights on or display Halloween decorations or anything that might entice children to come to their door for trick-or-treating.

She said no local ordinance prevents offenders from participating in Halloween, but those still on probation are under specific guidelines regarding interacting with children.

Because of strict city ordinances regarding sex offenders living in Starke, most offenders in Bradford County live in the county's rural areas, where trick-or-treating is less common, McKinley said.

Columbia County 

Sgt. Murray Smith said the Columbia County Sheriff's Office is active throughout the year in letting the public know where sexual predators live in their area. He said deputies make mandatory announcements on social media whenever a predator enters the county, and any child care facility within a mile of where a predator lives is notified in person by a detective.

He said he encourage parents to check the FDLE website (see info above) to find any predators or offenders in their neighborhoods and to sign up for alerts that will tell them if any move into the area.

The Sheriff's Office also sends out a Halloween safety bulletin, which includes advice to trick-or-treat only in neighborhoods where the family is familiar with who lives in the area.

Smith said that while Columbia County's ordinance might not name Halloween specifically, predators do have to follow rules year-round about not enticing children to come to their homes.

The detective in charge of the county's sexual predator tracking unit will also be coordinating some increased patrols.

Union County

Because of the county's regulations, sexual predators cannot move into Union County, but sex offenders can, Capt. Lyn Williams explained.

He said sex offenders in the county are not required to place signs in front of their homes, but they are told to turn their lights off and not decorate their homes for Halloween.

He said the county's offender unit will be out patrolling both before and during local trick-or-treating events to make sure offenders are in compliance and not enticing any children.

The countywide trick-or-treat event from 6-8 p.m. on Oct. 31 will also include a "Lake Butler Small Business Trunk or Treat" in the parking lot next to Little Rainbow's Learning Center on 6th Avenue.

Small businesses can sponsor "trunks" for candy giveaways, and there will be patrol units on-site and throughout the community for trick-or-treating.

The First Christian Church of Lake Butler on 1st Street will also host a Trunk or Treat event from 6-9 p.m. Oct. 31, and the RMC Halloween Festival will include trick-or-treating and events from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Nov. 2. Law enforcement officers will be at all the events.

Williams suggested parents check their neighborhoods on the FDLE sex offender search page and sign up for alerts through the Florida Offender Alert System, which notifies users when offenders move into a particular area.

About the Authors:

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.