Law enforcement agencies this week visited hundreds of sex offenders throughout the county in a program meant to keep children safe while trick-or-treating on Halloween.
An annual county-wide sex offender compliance check was conducted Oct. 24-25 by the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office to ensure addresses were accurate and the offenders were in good standing with their registration, officials said.
Despite research showing no evidence that children are at greater risk of experiencing sex abuse on Halloween than on any other day, states and localities around the nation impose severe restrictions on registered sex offenders during the holiday, according to The Marshall Project, a nonprofit journalism organization about criminal justice.
Some, including parts of Virginia, Georgia, Delaware and Texas, require sex offenders on probation or parole to report to designated locations. Others, such as Missouri, Florida and Nevada, direct some offenders to post signs on their doors that say, “No candy or treats at this residence.”
Sex offenders in Galveston are prohibited from putting up Halloween decorations in the city, among other year-round restrictions.
La Marque prohibits sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of schools, day cares or parks.
Each city has its own regulations. But unincorporated areas don’t.
“Cities determine the parameters of sex offender proximity to certain areas,” County compliance officer Hillary Rodriguez said. “There are no regulations like these in the county, which makes unincorporated areas attractive to sex offenders.”
The U.S. Marshals Service, Texas Department of Public Safety, Galveston Police Department, Hitchcock Police Department, Santa Fe Police Department, La Marque Police Department, Texas City Police Department, Dickinson Police Department and Kemah Police Department also helped conduct the checks, the sheriff’s office said.
A total of 640 compliance checks were conducted, leading to 26 investigations being opened and four city ordinance violations being found.
“There are a total of 760 known sex offenders in the county, but these were the ones we were able to find,” Chief Deputy Dennis Macik of the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office said. “Most of the investigations that were opened have to deal with failure to register or submitting the wrong address.
“The district attorney will determine which charges will be filed and what warrants will be served.”
Sex offenders are given a test before they’re released to determine the threat they pose to the community — from low to high, Rodriguez said.
“The municipalities will send out post cards warning citizens if they have a high-risk sex offender in their area,” Rodriguez said.
Although compliance checks are conducted every three months, the county makes a point of doing such checks ahead of Halloween to keep children and families safe, Macik said. Parents can pinpoint homes where sex offenders live to avoid them while trick-or-treating.
“I encourage parents to utilize websites to find out where sex offenders live nearby,” Macik said. “Whether this is done or not, children and parents should be aware of their surroundings in order to be safe.”