Trick-or-treating will likely look different this Halloween as the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc on our annual traditions.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention labeled trick-or-treating door-to-door as a high-risk activity and offered some ideas for alternatives that might pose lower risks of transmitting COVID-19.
But there are ways to still do traditional trick-or-treating safely -- with some adjustments, like limiting yourself to a small group and practicing social distancing.
For those who still plan to head out in the neighborhood on Oct. 31, another important safety check will be to find out if there are any sex offenders on your trick-or-treating route.
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.
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.
In Jacksonville, there are more than 2,400 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.
“Halloween presents an enticing opportunity for sexual offenders and sexual predators because of the number of kids out at night, trick-or-treating and knocking on strangers' doors,” the Sheriff’s Office 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.
St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Chuck Mulligan 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more on the St. Johns County rules, click here.
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.
For more on the Nassau County ordinance, click here.
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 also place signs in front of the homes of convicted sexual predators to warn parents and children not to visit these houses while trick-or-treating.
“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 their Halloween activities elsewhere," Leeper said.
Leeper said they want families to have fun but also want to be sure kids are safe on Halloween.
The Sheriff’s Office is even hosting a Halloween alternative this year with a “No Tricks Just Treats” trunk-or-treat event for Nassau County children. The drive-thru event is from 5:30-7 p.m. Oct. 27 at the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office at 77151 Citizens Circle in Yulee.
The kids can meet and greet their local law enforcement, see a display of NCSO vehicles and get some candy. Because of the pandemic, all participants will stay in their vehicles as they drive through to get candy from the deputies.
Last year, the Clay County Commission passed an updated ordinance that specifically prohibits offenders from participating in Halloween activities, including distributing candy to children or other items to children on Halloween or wearing costumes for the primary purpose of entertaining or attracting children.
The ordinance requires sexual offenders and predators to avoid all Halloween-related contact with children, turn off the exterior lights of their homes after 5 p.m. on Oct. 31 and not decorate their homes. Halloween events in which the sexual offender or sexual predator is the parent or guardian of the children involved, and no non-familial children are present, are exempted from the ordinance.
To read the full ordinance, click here.
The Special Victims Unit of the Clay County Sheriff’s Office also 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.
The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office Sex Offender Unit is collaborating with Probation and Parole Services to make visits to the homes of all registered sex offenders in Flagler County during the month of October for address verification checks and to ensure that all rules and restrictions and being followed.
There are 31 individuals living in Flagler County that have specific sanctions stating they cannot hand out candy, decorate for the holiday, or leave their porch light on during Halloween. These limitations are designed to protect children from potential threats from sexual offenders or predators, or those with conditions of their release that do not allow them to have contact with minors.
Detectives and probation officers will visit the homes of all 31 individuals with these sanctions on Oct. 31 to conduct a walkthrough of the residence and instruct them to not decorate their homes for Halloween, distribute candy, or otherwise participate in Halloween. These individuals must be in their homes by 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 31 and remain inside for the rest of the night, deputies said.
“This Halloween is unlike any we have celebrated in Flagler County before,” Sheriff Rick Staly said. “But, the safety of our kids is something that we will always take extremely serious. Our Sex Offender Unit, partnered with Probation and Parole Services, are going to visit every house with Halloween restrictions and make sure these offenders are in compliance. If not, they will be arrested and taken to the Green Roof Inn where they will spend Halloween night.”
The Green Roof Inn is Staly’s nickname for the Flagler County jail.
Flagler County also compiles a flyer each year with the photographs, names and addresses of the individuals who must follow Halloween rules for sex offenders. Click here to see the flyer.
“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Halloween looks a little different this year. But, one thing that remains the same is that safety is still our number one priority,” Staly said. “If you choose to participate in Halloween activities we ask that you do so responsibly and with the safety of yourself and others in mind. Drivers, please drive slowly and watch for trick-or-treaters. If you plan to consume alcohol, make sure you have a sober driver.”
If you plan to take children trick-or-treating this year, the Sheriff’s Office suggests checking with the neighborhoods first to ensure they are participating in Halloween. The homeowners association for Sugar Mill Planation has notified the FCSO they will not be hosting their official Halloween event this year which typically draws hundreds of families to the neighborhood.
According to spokesperson Allison Waters-Merritt, the Sheriff’s Office is working with parole and probation to make contact with sexual predators and sex offenders as Halloween gets closer to verify that those who have stipulations that they cannot participate in activities involving children are aware of the rules.
The Sheriff’s Office will then follow-up with spot checks on Halloween with those offenders and predators who have those conditions as part of their monitoring process to make sure they are complying with state law.
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.
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.
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.
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 encourages 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.
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 community-wide door-to-door trick-or-treat event will be in the city of Lake Butler from 6-9 p.m. on Oct. 31.
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.