SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Several states across the country have different laws limiting what sex offenders can do around children on Halloween. This includes not being allowed to pass out candy, display decorations, dress up in a costume or answer the door to trick-or-treaters on Halloween.
However, Utah does not have any of those laws.
“[Children] are coming to your home on their own free will,” said Unified Police Department Sgt. Melody Cutler. “They did not need to be groomed, they did not need to be coaxed, they are just showing up to your house.”
The Utah Department of Corrections (UDC) instructs all sex offenders under state supervision not to interact with trick-or-treaters on Halloween. UDC Adult Probation and Parole Communications Director Kaitlin Felsted said agents across the state will also be doing random compliance checks the night of Halloween.
However, this does not apply to the thousands of offenders on the registry who are no longer under supervision. That is why parents are encouraged to check the registered sex offender registry before mapping out a trick-or-treat route. ABC4 News spoke with several parents who have mixed reactions to this advice.
“What, I am supposed to do due diligence before I send my kid trick-or-treating? I mean that is ridiculous,” a Provo mom told ABC4.
“I think parents should be the ones doing it…I think the parents really need to check,” Provo Resident Swan Shepard said.
The Utah Safety Council (USC) also encourages parents to talk to their kids about avoiding certain homes and making sure they have a way to communicate while trick-or-treating.
“Just making sure you are aware and you are not dismissing something just for an experience, a piece of candy or whatever. If you do not feel right about it, skip that house. Sometimes your intuition is best,” USC Vice-President of Operations Brandee Crockett said.
Many law enforcement agencies across the state have different ways of handling sex offenders on Halloween.
“We will have people out and we are going to drive through areas, especially where we know there might be a high concentration of sex offenders or sex offenders in neighborhoods,” said West Jordan Police Department Officer Sam Winkler.
The Unified Police Department says it visits every registered sex offender’s home in its jurisdiction the week leading up to Halloween to remind them of their conditions and advise them to not pass out candy.
“So, the conversations they’re having with them is about, ‘Look, we do not want you passing out candy…we do not want children coming to your house. And you know this ultimately is not only about protecting children, but you do not want to go back to jail, so let’s make sure nothing happens and we aren’t creating an opportunity for you,’” said Cutler.
“It would not be a violation of the law for a person on the sex offender registry to open their door and respond if someone approached them,” said Provo Police Capt. Brian Taylor. “So, I do not know how to warn people not to engage in lawful behavior.”
ABC4 News spoke with two mothers who live close to where the man in Provo exposed himself to trick-or-treaters last Halloween.
They asked to remain anonymous out of fear for their safety, but they said more needs to be done to protect kids on Halloween, especially since this has happened in their neighborhood before.
“Terrified, you know?” said one mother. “It is kind of a bit of a risk to go trick-or-treating these days with the way the world is, but knowing there’s someone right in your vicinity, I don’t feel comfortable doing that at all.”
“Scary…but, I mean, that is why we stay in,” said another Provo mom. “But I think that’s kind of sad also because you are scared for your kids, and you can’t really participate in things like that because you don’t know what could happen.”
ABC4 News asked multiple police agencies in Utah how often they see registered sex offenders creating problems on Halloween. Both the West Jordan Police Department and Unified Police department said they do not get reports of this happening often but said it’s very likely to be underreported.
“Someone may approach your child and it may be a weird conversation, but your child may brush it off like ‘Oh, it’s Halloween,’ when in reality it could be someone who intended to lure them or cause harm to them,” said Winkler. “So, when they get home, they do not even tell mom and dad something happened.”
“We may not know because it may not be reported because it’s Halloween,” said Cutler. “Things happen on Halloween that people just laugh off or brush off as a Halloween prank… where maybe it wasn’t a Halloween prank.”
Cutler said having a law that spells out what registered sex offenders can do on Halloween will help eliminate any confusion about what is allowed across our state.
“Not only would it help but it would make things very consistent. When you look at even here in the Salt Lake Valley and the number of law enforcement agencies, we have…it is going to be different from city to city on what’s happening.”