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Police try to monitor sex offenders at Halloween

By Emanuella Grinberg, CNN
Lt. Steve Rose of the Sandy Springs Police Department verifies the address of a sex offender in his jurisdiction.
Lt. Steve Rose of the Sandy Springs Police Department verifies the address of a sex offender in his jurisdiction.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Police in Georgia take it upon themselves to check sex offenders' addresses
  • Sex offenders in parts of Arkansas, Texas, IIllinois must attend meetings Halloween night
  • Keeping tabs on sex offenders provides community with sense of comfort, police say
  • Measures can create false sense of security, president of child safety group says

Sandy Springs, Georgia (CNN) -- During the week before Halloween each year, Lt. Steve Rose of the Sandy Springs Police Department in Georgia knocks on the doors of every registered sex offender in his jurisdiction.

Rose set out in his unmarked Dodge Charger Wednesday with a printout of 20 names to verify that the people on the list live where they say they live.

His mission brings him and members of his force to subdivisions, houses, hotels and and apartment buildings in this Atlanta bedroom community of about 85,000 people.

"We do this to give people a level of comfort so they know we're keeping tabs on them," said Rose, a former sex crimes detective with 34 years of police experience.

Sandy Springs is one of many local law enforcement agencies across the country taking extra steps this Halloween to assure the community that the agencies are keeping track of the sex offenders living among them.

There are 686,515 registered sex offenders in the United States, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

The Houston, Texas, Police Department says members of its Juvenile Sex Offender Registration Unit performed checks on the residences of registered sex offenders to ensure they are in compliance with the provisions of their parole or probation. They were also told not to decorate their homes, distribute candy, turn on their porch lights or answer the door.

Similar restrictions are in place in Nashville, Tennessee.

"This is a proactive effort on our part to ensure community safety," said Melissa McDonald, spokeswoman for the Board of Parole and Probation.

Some registered sex offenders in parts of Arkansas, Texas and Illinois must report to mandatory meetings, which critics have mockingly nicknamed "sex offender Halloween parties," for a few hours on Saturday evening.

In Rose's experience, however, most sex offenders keep to themselves on Halloween. In some areas, they cannot attend Halloween parties or events such as haunted houses or corn mazes.

"They just want to stay out of trouble," he said. "But it's still incumbent on us to provide the community with the most up-to-date information about these people who are living in here."

Technically, Sandy Springs police are not responsible for verifying the addresses for the state's sex offender registry.

As soon as all the addresses are verified, Rose says he includes the information in his weekly newsletter to the local homeowners' associations. He'll also notify the Fulton County Sheriff's Office, whose jurisdiction includes Sandy Springs, of any incorrect listings.

After maneuvering through traffic for nearly three hours in the sprawling suburb, Rose had visited five residences. He spoke with one man, who calls a room at the Intown Suites home. Weekly rates start at $199.

"They don't have to worry about background checks in places like these," Rose said as he made his way down the fluorescent-lit hallway, the faint scent of fast food wafting through the vents.

Halloween safety tips
CHOOSE bright, flame-retardant costumes or add reflective tape to costumes.
PLAN a trick-or-treating route in familiar neighborhoods with well-lit streets. Avoid unfamiliar neighborhoods.
NEVER send young children out alone. They should always be accompanied by a parent or another trusted adult.
ALWAYS walk younger children to the door to receive treats.
BE SURE children do not approach any vehicle, unless you are with them.
DISCUSS basic pedestrian safety rules with children.
CONSIDER organizing a home or community party as an alternative to trick-or-treating.
MAKE sure children know their home phone number and address in case you get separated.
TEACH children to say "NO!" or "this is not my mother/father" in a loud voice if someone tries to lead them somewhere.
REMIND children to remain alert and report suspicious incidents.
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He knocked twice, announcing himself as Sandy Springs police, and a tall, thin man opened the door, revealing a sliver of the pitch black room as he rubbed sleep from his eyes.

"Just checking in to verify your address. Has anyone else been by lately? Sheriff or probation?" Rose asked.

"Yes. Sheriff. I'm off probation," answered the man, who was convicted of receiving child pornography in 2001.

"Everything OK here?"

"Yes sir."

"OK then. Have a good day."

"Thank you sir," the man said, closing the door.

In two other stops, Rose confirmed with the leasing offices that the offenders were no longer living at the listed addresses. He failed to gain entry to another, and spoke with the roommate of another.

"We'll go back until we find them," he said.

Such measures, which have been part of the season for years now, are widely perceived to provide the community with a sense of comfort, said Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

"We applaud and understand the vigilance that these jurisdictions want to take, and I don't think it hurts anything, but I think it's important not to feel a false sense of security just because registered sex offenders in the community are required to stay home with their lights off or at a counseling session. It's not a panacea, it's not a guarantee," he said.

Allen said there is no evidence of higher incidence of sex offenses against children on Halloween. On its Web site, www.missingkids.com, the center provides parents with tips on how to keep their kids safe on Halloween, from supervising them on rounds to teaching children to be cautious and alert.

"The most important thing for parents is to use this time to talk about safety with their children and share common sense lessons, like only go to homes of people you know, be aware of your surroundings."