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Phone aps, community events keep Halloween safe
PLANO -- Halloween is an exciting and memorable day for kids but can be tricky for parents who want to make sure the trick-or-treating festivity is a safe one.
Some states have gone so far as to enact laws geared toward keeping sex offenders as far away as possible. Although Texas does not have a state law banning registered sex offenders from putting up Halloween decorations or handing out candy to trick-or-treaters, local law enforcement believes parental awareness and watchful communities have made Halloween less dangerous for trick-or-treaters in Plano and throughout Collin County.
Over the years, Lt. Tony Bradley with the Collin County Sheriff's Department said he has not noticed an increase in incidents around Halloween despite the fact that sex offenders know children are more accessible. Bradley credits parents and their heightened sense of awareness which, over time has given predators a smaller window of opportunity to strike on Halloween.
"I have been in the child abuse business for over 10 years now and know that if a sex offender has an opportunity to offend then they most likely will act on that opportunity," Bradley said.
To help parents enhance this vigilance, several free and paid smart phone applications provide an easy way to scan detailed sex offender registries while on the go. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services' website is also one of the best resources for finding updated information on registered sex offenders in the area, Smith said. Other websites for pinpointing registered residences are the National Sex Offender Registry, crimereports.com and the U.S. Department of Justice.
"We do not have any type of ordinance that would dictate how sex offenders participate in Halloween or that prevents them from handing out trick or treat candy; however, it is really based on the condition of each person's probation or parole whether or not they are allowed to participate in any Halloween function," said Officer Andrae Smith of the Plano Police Department.
The department's website also offers helpful tips for trick-or-treaters and their parents at www.plano.gov. The department suggests older kids travel in groups and that a safe route be mapped out so parents will know where they will be, plotting out only familiar homes to stop at where the outside lights are on.
Smith said the department is encouraging families with young children to attend the Plano Market Square Mall on Halloween Night for Kids Night Out. Hosted by the police department, the free event will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. and offers a safe and fun way for kids in kindergarten through fifth grades to trick-or-treat without the hassle of traffic and the uncertainty of approaching a stranger's doorstep.
In terms of general Halloween safety, parents can also avoid trick-or-treating troubles by having costume parties in their own homes. Schools, fire departments, libraries and other civic groups also offer their own haunted houses and other Halloween events for families looking for a safe alternative.
That is not to say that traditional trick-or-treating in neighborhoods is a bad idea, as long as it is done safely, said Dan Powers, senior vice president of clinical and administrative services at the Children's Advocacy Center of Collin County. Every year there are news stories about sex offenders and Halloween so even sex offenders know that people are on the lookout for them, Powers said. Furthermore, he added, most sex offenders know the children they victimize; however, this does not mean parents should not use caution or teach their kids to be safe every day.
"I suggest [parents] talk openly with [their] kids about safety," Powers said. "Teach kids how to stay safe and do it often. Empower [them] to 'trust their gut' and that it's more important to be safe than polite."
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