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All Treats, No Tricks

Will your children be trick or treating at the home of a registered sex offender? It is a chilling thought for any parent.

There are 21 registered sex offenders in Westbury and one in Carle Place, according to the state’s Sex Offender Registry. To find out exact addresses and detailed information, you can go to www.criminaljustice.ny.gov/nso and search by zip code. Each community’s registered offenders are listed with photos, addresses and even vehicles registered to them.

While parental vigilance is the first line of defense, for the past nine years the Nassau County Department of Probation has conducted “Operation Safe Sweets,” designed to protect children from sex offenders on Halloween through monitoring convicted sex offenders as Oct. 31 approaches.

“It’s a program that has served as a model on the state and national level and we’re very proud of it,” said Nassau County’s acting director of probation, John Fowler. “It makes a lot of sense, and definitely makes people safer.”

The multi-pronged approach begins with the Probation Department sending all convicted sex offenders a written notice reiterating the court-mandated limitations regarding contact with children. In Nassau County, out of 537 registered offenders, 230 require supervision, which means that the probation department often checks in on them and that they are not allowed to have any unsupervised contact with children.  As per their probation conditions, sex offenders under supervision are not allowed to decorate their homes, hand out candy, answer their doors for trick or treaters, or engage in other Halloween activities.

On and around Halloween, teams of probation officers will conduct random, unannounced visits to the homes of the 240 supervised sex offenders countywide, to ensure compliance. Sometimes, they will visit a home multiple times, based on the offender’s history or information gathered on the first visit.

“The goal isn’t to hide in the bushes and catch them doing something wrong, it’s to make clear what the expectations are and tell them what they need to do to be compliant and to make sure they’re compliant,” says Fowler.

Offenders who violate the court-ordered conditions may be subject to imprisonment. But Fowler says that most offenders are in compliance.  

Tania Stamp, president of the Westbury High School PTA, says that while knowing that sex offenders are being checked on provides some peace of mind, she relies heavily on an app that can be downloaded to smart phones called life360, which shows the address, name, and picture of every sex offender in the area.

 “You may not necessarily be at that offender’s address, but if you’re familiar with their faces you’ll know who’s around,” Stamp says. “So if a sex offender puts on a costume and walks three houses down to hand out candy at a friend’s house, I have a picture of them and know who they are.”

According to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, there are 19 registered sex offenders in Westbury, and one on Carle Place.

Parent’s for Megan’s Law Executive Director Laura Ahearn says that the risk with Halloween is it allows offenders the chance to develop relationships with children.

“Sexual abuse happens over 90 percent with someone a child has established a relationship with,” Ahearn says. “Offenders engage children and give them gifts, and that process leads to their victimization. A candy bar represents more than a candy bar to someone who has ulterior motives.”

To prevent this, Ahearn advises parents to teach their kids to always check first with their parents before they accept any gift, which would eliminate the potential for an offender to begin establishing a relationship with the child. Teenagers should go out in groups and children of any age should never enter the house of a stranger, nor a home that is not well lit. Ahearn also emphasizes the importance of parents going up to houses with their children, instead of staying at the end of a driveway.

“It send a message to that person giving candy, who might have an ulterior motive, that the child’s parent is watching carefully,” Ahearn says.

But ultimately, keeping a close eye on your children is the best way to keep them.

“Parental supervision is the first defense a parent can take to protect their children,” Ahearn says.

For more safety tips and to see where registered sex offenders live in your neighborhood, visit www.parentsformeganslaw.org.