Officials issue sex offender warning

Halloween safety tips are sent out

police surveillance planned

Officials plan for a safe Halloween

October 28, 2006|By Nick Shields and Gina Davis | Nick Shields and Gina Davis,SUN REPORTERS

Law enforcement officials are taking unusual steps this Halloween to keep children from coming into contact with known child sex offenders, including warning the offenders not to decorate their homes to attract trick-or-treaters, making plans to visit the offenders that night and putting some under surveillance.

A letter sent out this month by the Maryland Division of Parole and Probation to all parolees and probationers on the state's sex offender registry offers suggestions for sex offenders that "demonstrate for your neighbors that you are sincerely trying to change the direction of your life."

The letter recommends that the offenders avoid decorating the outside of their homes for Halloween, keeping the lights off and their doors closed Tuesday evening.

"By staying home and not participating in any Halloween activities you will allow children, and their parents, to enjoy the holiday without extra anxiety. Not participating in Halloween activities will also protect you from misunderstandings and the legal allegations that may arise from them," the letter states.

Baltimore County plans to pay about 20 plainclothes officers overtime to work the streets and look for sex offenders who have contact with children other than their own, which is typically prohibited under the terms of probation, said Cpl. Michael Hill, a county police spokesman.

Similar efforts are planned in Baltimore City and Carroll and Harford counties, officials said.

Sex offenders in Miami, Philadelphia and New York also have been warned that they will be closely watched to ensure they don't violate orders to stay away from children.

Costume limit

In one Minnesota city, Taylor Falls, council members passed an ordinance that prohibits certain sex offenders - those deemed most likely to repeat their offense - from dressing up for Halloween, Christmas or Easter, according to published reports. In Taylor Falls, it also is illegal for sex offenders to live near schools or parks.

Russell P. Butler, executive director of the Maryland Crime Victims' Resource Center, said such law enforcement initiatives are useful in deterring sex offenders from harming children.

"The benefit of this program is that they are publicizing that they are going to do it. It may make some of them think twice about trying to entice children. Anything we can do to protect the children ... is a very positive step," he said.

In recent years, more than a dozen states, including California, Texas and New York, have faced legal challenges after passing laws that restrict sex offenders' choices, such as where they can live or places they can visit.

Ban challenged

In Indiana, the American Civil Liberties Union argued this year that a proposal to ban child molesters from playgrounds, swimming pools and other public areas would take away a person's right to use a public space without a direct cause, such as drinking or lewd behavior, according to published reports.

A spokeswoman with the ACLU of Maryland declined to comment about the state's advisory to sex offenders.

Elizabeth Bartholomew, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Division of Parole and Probation, said there are about 1,700 people on the state's sex offender registry. About half are on parole or probation.

She said that one recipient of the letter has filed a complaint.

The Baltimore County Police Department was awarded a $110,000 one-year grant by the governor's office of Crime Control and Prevention to ensure that sexual offenders are in compliance with state law, Hill said.

About $3,400 of the grant will be spent for the Halloween sex offender surveillance, he said.

Checks planned

Sheriff's officials in Harford County said that they, along with parole and probation officers, will perform the checks during the evening hours Monday and Tuesday.

The checks will consist of verifying the addresses of registered sex offenders and maintaining a visible presence in communities during Halloween, officials said.

Troopers from the state police barracks in Westminster will be visiting the homes of Carroll County's registered sex offenders, with parole and probation officials, on Monday and Tuesday, Sgt. Doug Reitz said.

But they aren't using specific state grants for these home visits, Reitz said. Pfc. Jennifer Reidy, a spokeswoman for Howard County police, said the department is contacting all of the registered sex offenders in the county.

"We are advising them to abide by the regulations they are given," Reidy said. "They are also providing tips and advice on how to discourage them from being a welcome home for trick or treaters - like turning their porch lights off."

Sun reporters Laura McCandlish and Tyrone Richardson contributed to this article.

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