Law enforcement in Alachua County will be ramping up its efforts tonight to protect children as they go trick-or-treating for Halloween.
The sheriff’s office will be monitoring the homes of the roughly 400 sexual offenders and sexual predators in Alachua County tonight to make sure they follow special Halloween restrictions, said Lt. Brandon Kutner, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office.
The restrictions include requiring the offenders and predators to not hand out candy, dress up in Halloween costumes or to decorate their houses. However, thinking that all sexual offenders and predators are required to follow these restrictions is a common misconception, Kutner said.
The ones who are forced to comply are on probation and are being monitored by the Florida Department of Corrections, Kutner said. But offenders and predators not on probation or being monitored are allowed to hand out candy, decorate their homes freely and wear costumes.
“If you are a sex offender that’s been convicted and you’ve done your time, and there’s no requirement laid out by the state other than you registering your address every six months or three months, depending on what your status it, those restrictions don’t apply to you,” he said.
All year long, though, the sheriff’s office does routine checks on offenders’ houses, not just on Halloween.
“Today is really nothing different for us other than we have the added restrictions that come along with the Halloween holiday,” Kutner said.
Kutner said the office’s monitoring system — for example, going to every offender’s and predator’s house specifically on Halloween — is “a robust one.”
It’s rare that the restrictions aren’t followed because the offenders and predators are aware of the consequences, including possible new misdemeanor or felony charges, he said.
From a park between Newberry and Gainesville, Nazanin Langaee said she fears for her two young sons’ safety on Halloween because of the large crowds and the thought that sexual predators could use the holiday’s activities to lure her children.
“There’s candy, so there’s the perfect opportunity to get kids to do things that they’re not supposed to,” the 29-year-old said earlier today.
Langaee said she’s looked up the number of many sex offenders living near her home and found about 10.
“It’s definitely scary,” she said.
Kutner said he hasn’t seen a violation of sexual offender and predator Halloween restrictions in the 10 years he’s been with the sheriff’s office.
But he stressed the importance of parents talking to their kids about the buddy system and familiarizing themselves with unfamiliar neighborhoods as they go trick-or-treating.
“Most important thing is: If you’re not familiar with the neighborhood you’re going to, take a look at our app, take a look at the FDLE website,” Kutner said. “Make sure you’re aware of what’s in the neighborhood before you start knocking on doors.”
While walking with her daughter and two grandchildren in Northwest Gainesville, Nancy Gomez, 58, said she plans to take her grandkids trick-or-treating tonight. She said she stresses the same rules to her grandkids that she did when her daughter was a child, including avoiding strangers.
“I think the rules still apply,” said Gomez, who was visiting from Boise, Idaho. “I guess I’m a little more wary just because when they’re your grandkids … the worry gets doubled.”
Kutner said he doesn’t feel like Alachua County parents should worry too much tonight but should still be mindful.
“We live in different society than I even grew up in 20 years ago,” he said. “Times change, and we have to make sure that we take the necessary steps to safeguard the kids that are out there trick-or-treating so that they can have the same fun experiences that we had back in the day.”