Houston police, sheriff's deputies and parole officers are going door to door checking on hundreds of sex offenders to ensure none are decorating their homes or plan to hand out candy on Halloween.
"It's a time for the mystic. It's a time for the masks to be on," said Glenn Shepherd, a sergeant with the Houston Police Department's Sex Offender Compliance Unit. "Somebody that wants to stay hidden can get out there and walk among you."
According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, there are 16,979 sex offenders under current supervision in Houston and Harris County and 417 of those sex offenders are barred from decorating their homes or handing out candy on Halloween. Whether a sex offender is barred from decorating for Halloween depends on whether that sex offender was convicted of attacking a child and whether that sex offender is currently on parole or probation for their crime.
"One child (who) becomes a victim is one too many," said Shepherd.
Shepherd and his team have been checking on these addresses to make sure sex offenders are in compliance, including whether a sex offender has provided a current address to law enforcement. If police discover a sex offender has provided a bogus home address then that person can be sent back to jail.
As Local 2 Investigates rode with Shepherd, he was also searching for a sex offender who was no longer living at the address he provided to law enforcement. Pressure on family members and neighbors from police eventually led to that sex offender surrendering to officers to face charges of non-compliance.
"Let the sex offenders, No. 1, know that we're out there and we're paying attention to them," said Shepherd. "We're trying to take away their opportunity to victimize a child."
Shepherd said he cannot recall a case where a registered sex offender specifically used Halloween to lure a child, but emphasized the opportunity still exists.
"Kids get the candy and they don't care where they get the candy from," said Shepherd. "You got the predator, he'll prey on that."
Shepherd explained this type of compliance check happens year round, but is highlighted during Halloween because so many children are going door-to-door trick-or-treating.
"I get the call, 'I heard about a sex offender, what does that mean? Do I need to be afraid?'" said Shepherd. "Well you need to pay attention. Will he do it again? Well, I don't know, but he won't do it to you because you're paying attention."
Shepherd strongly advises parents to never let their children go trick-or-treating without adult supervision and to only visit homes they are familiar with.
To check whether registered sex offenders live in your area go to www.txdps.state.tx.us and type your ZIP code into the sex offender registry.