Halloween patrols check on offenders

By Susanne Cervenka
Florida Today

FLORIDA — Authorities from Titusville to Palm Bay will be knocking on doors for Halloween tonight, but they're not looking for treats.

They will be checking on supervised sex offenders, making sure they're not targeting little ghosts and goblins.

The goal is to protect children during the holiday that, by its nature, leaves them vulnerable, said Detective Jessica Edens, who investigates sex offenses for Titusville police and is organizing the city's patrol.

"For a sex offender, it's like a personal delivery man," she said.

Several police departments, including Titusville, Rockledge and Palm Bay, as well as the Brevard County Sheriff's Office, are partnering with officers from Florida Department of Corrections to make sure offenders who aren't allowed to have unsupervised contact with children are abiding by that rule.

"Not only as an officer and a citizen but as a parent we always have to take proactive steps," Rockledge police spokesman Michael Cadore said.

Authorities haven't encountered many problems on the Halloween patrols.

Last year, the sheriff's office made only one arrest, said Lt. Todd Goodyear with the sheriff's Special Victims Unit, and that, he believes, was a curfew violation, not an offender having contact with a child.

"The large majority of offenders in this county comply," Goodyear said.

Melbourne police will go out tonight to do their own checks on their 90 or so sex offenders, while Cocoa police spent the week leading up to Halloween verifying that the sex offenders within their city limits are actually living at the addresses on file.

Titusville police sent letters to its 22 sex offenders with prohibitions against contact with children telling them not to join in Halloween. The letter discourages decorating houses, turning on porch lights or doing anything else that could entice trick-or-treaters.

Asking them not to participate in Halloween also is a safeguard for the sex offenders themselves, Goodyear said. While individuals no longer on probation legally can decorate their homes and hand out candy, it opens them up to complaints from the public.

"It's as much to protect them as it is to protect children," he said.

Palm Bay sex offender manager Officer Dan Fisher said he gets about six to 10 calls each year from residents asking whether a registered offender can pass out candy. By checking the list of 99 offenders, Fisher can either tell the resident the person is clear to participate in Halloween or know he needs to go check on one of the 42 offenders in the city still on probation.

"We're glad when people call us," he said. "We want to set somebody's mind at ease."

What makes for a violation depends on what the probation officer told the offender not to do for the holiday, Goodyear said. If children still come to their door, offenders should play it safe and have someone else greet the person or just not answer the door.

"They are given conditions by the court. It's something they have to live with," he said.

While there have been no reports of Brevard children being victimized on Halloween, authorities say they don't want that to change.

"We're just doing our darndest to make sure it doesn't happen here," Titusville's Edens said.

Copyright 2007 Florida Today

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