The spookiest time of the year is fast approaching, and you most likely have already heard about local law enforcement officers preparing to keep your area free of danger on Halloween night.
They may be visiting schools to counsel kids on safe practices. They may be warning drivers about watching out for children on Halloween night. In communities across America, officers are fanning out to knock on the doors of registered sex offenders.
The idea behind visiting local “S.O.s” (as they are referred to) is twofold. First, it’s a transparent effort to check that the address police have on record for the ex-offender is still good. Second, it is a somber face-to-face warning to the S.O. that they are not allowed to interact with children on Halloween.
Laws vary from state to state, but generally speaking those convicted of sex offenses are not allowed to decorate the outside of their homes or leave their outdoor lights on during Halloween night. Most S.O.s are required to display a poster in the front window saying they are not giving out candy or any other treats. In some states, there is a mandatory shut-in order for them from sundown to midnight.
This has become an annual ritual between cops and ex-cons. But you know what? It’s a waste of time.
You read that right. There has never been a concrete reason given that explains why a sex offender would choose the very public holiday of Halloween to reoffend. More important, I couldn’t find a single report of a child being sexually attacked by a stranger during a Halloween party or during door-to-door trick-or-treating.
Look, the shameful crime of child molestation happens countless times every single day in this country, but honestly, there’s no evidence that the mystical day of Halloween sparks extra sex crimes. That doesn’t mean it’s a day to drop our guard, of course, but it is not a day to go looking for stranger-danger boogeymen that aren’t there.
It’s much more likely that your child could be struck by a car Halloween night or fall victim to tooth decay from eating all their loot.
The idea that spider-web decorations, carved pumpkins and costumed citizens somehow incites crimes against children reminds me of the urban legend that grew up around tainted Halloween candy. Remember that hue and cry?
We now know that only two deaths of children have ever been traced to poisoned Halloween candy, and both deaths were caused by family members.
After Halloween in 1970, in Detroit, 5-year-old Kevin Toston fell into a coma and died of a heroin overdose. Lab analysis of his candy bag contents showed they had been sprinkled with heroin. Officers later discovered the boy had stumbled upon his uncle’s drug stash and had accidentally poisoned himself. In an effort to protect the uncle, the family had dusted the child’s candy stash with heroin.
And, in 1974, Timothy O’Bryan of Houston died after eating a Pixy Stix laced with cyanide. Turned out his father had deliberately tampered with the candy to collect on the 8-year-old’s life insurance policy. It was a homegrown homicide and, despite all the media reports to the contrary, not the work of diabolical criminals bent on poisoning children. (By the way, Ronald O’Bryan was convicted of murdering his son in 1975 and was executed in 1984.)
The Los Angeles Times quotes Joel Best, a University of Delaware sociology professor formerly at Fresno State University, as saying he’s been trying to debunk the Halloween candy myth for more than 30 years. His research found 78 cases of “poisoned candy” from 1958 to 1988. Two were the deaths I’ve just explained above, and the rest, according to Best, were proven pranks.
I can’t tell you where or when this Halloween sex offender myth began, but it persists to this day. Every year at this time, newspapers and TV news programs are full of reports about police activities to curb this so-called menace that supposedly sprouts up every Oct. 31. And in some areas of the country, the U.S. Marshals service pitches in to make the S.O. house calls. It’s become an annual media staple much like covering fireworks on the Fourth of July or the Thanksgiving Day parade.
When you remove diagnosed career pedophiles from the mix (and, in my opinion, they should never be released from prison, and they often are not), most convicted sex offenders do not reoffend. They work to comply with complicated sex-offender registry regulations and their parole officer’s rules. They try hard to blend in to their community, where rebuilding their life by finding a job, a place to live and even a church at which to worship can be difficult.
I think it goes without saying that our police officers have better and more important things to do every Halloween season. But it’s worth saying anyway. Let’s free up law enforcement from this annual charade so they can concentrate on the real criminals in our neighborhoods.