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Trick-or-treating safety check: How to know if sex offenders, predators are on your route

County-by-county breakdown of Halloween rules for convicted sex offenders, predators

File photo (Pexels)

While the current delta variant surge of COVID-19 seems to finally be on the downswing, health experts are still urging some caution when it comes to trick-or-treating this Halloween.

In addition to the usual warnings about checking your children’s candy haul, experts are also still encouraging homes to make allowances for trick-or-treating visitors to maintain social distance from other groups.

For those who plan to head out in the neighborhood over Halloween weekend, another important safety reminder from law enforcement is for parents or guardians to find out if there are any sex offenders on their 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.

News4Jax has contacted the local sheriff's offices in our area to find out the best way for you to map out your child's trick-or-treating route and avoid the wrong houses.

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 2,500 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.

File photo

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 who are taking their children trick-or-treating to check for sexual offenders and predators in the area and be aware. You can use the FDLE database or download the app (see details above).

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 spokesperson Peret Pass 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. 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.

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.

Rain or shine: Nassau County places the sexual predator signs out to alert trick-or-treating families to stay away from certain homes. (Provided by Nassau County Sheriff's Office)

Clay County

In 2019, 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.

Members of the Clay County Sheriff’s Office also monitor offenders and predators and will remind offenders of the specific rules they are under regarding Halloween.

Clay County deputies encourage parents to check the FDLE website (see info above) for a detailed list of offenders in their area.

Flagler County

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 29 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 29 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, we want to ensure everyone enjoys some trick-or-treating fun,” Sheriff Rick Staly said. “But, the safety of our kids is something that we will always take extremely seriously. Our deputies, partnered with Probation and Parole Services, are going to visit every sex offender that has restrictions and make sure that they are all in compliance. If not, they will be brought to jail.”

Below is a list of the 29 offenders that will be visited on Halloween day. Included are their photographs, names, and addresses. The Sheriff’s Office urges you to avoid visiting these addresses during Halloween.

The 29 offenders that will be visited on Halloween day in Flagler County.

Putnam County

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.

Alachua County

Public Information Officer Art Forgey said Alachua County does not have any special restrictions or ordinances in place regulating sex offenders or predators.

They are subject to state laws concerning the holiday.

Those still on probation are under specific guidelines regarding interacting with children, which vary by case.

Baker County

Lt. David C. Mancini Jr., who oversees the Detective Division at the Baker County Sheriff’s Office, said sex offenders and/or predators living in Baker County are prohibited from distributing candy or ANY other items to children on Halloween, and their porch lights are to remain off throughout the night (unlike the photo below).

They are also not allowed to dress in any costume or outfit that could appeal to children, such as a clown costume.

The BCSO offender tracking unit and the Office of Probation & Parole are taking proactive steps by reminding all offenders & predators of these guidelines in advance, and both agencies will be out in the community on Halloween to ensure that these individuals are in absolute compliance with the law.

File photo

Bradford County

Maj. Dawn McKinley, who works at the Bradford County Jail, said flyers are being personally handed out to all sex offenders and predators 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.

VIEW: Flyer being given to Bradford County sex offenders/predators

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.

The county’s Sex Offender Unit is participating in “Operation Safe Kids” -- in addition to handing out the flyers to all registered offenders and predators -- the unit will be attending and patrolling each fall festival and the “Great Pumpkin Escape” held downtown “to ensure the safety of our kids,” McKinley said.

The Great Pumpkin Escape is a free, family-friendly event with games, trick-or-treating and vendors at the Call Street Historic District in Starke. It’s scheduled to start at 5 p.m. Saturday. For more information, click here.

Columbia County

Sgt. Steven Khachigan 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.

Khachigan 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.

File photo (WDIV)

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 community-wide door-to-door trick-or-treat event will be from 6-8 p.m. on Saturday with a city/county-wide trick-or-treating event at the RMC from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Saturday.

Williams said the Sheriff’s Office works closely with Probation and Parole Officers during these events to ensure that those supposed to be home, stay home.

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 Author:

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.