At a press conference Tuesday afternoon (October 29), St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Randy Smith announced two new ways the agency is helping parents protect their children from child predators.
This Halloween, signs will be placed in the yards of 160 of the parish’s registered sex offenders, warning parents not to let their children trick-or-treat there.
The 160 high-risk offenders were chosen from the more than 400 tracked by the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office.
“These are the worst of the worst offenders and we want parents to know what houses to avoid when going door-to-door with their children,” Sheriff Smith said.
All registered sex offenders face special restrictions on Halloween. State law prohibits convicted sex offenders from distributing candy on Halloween to anyone under the age of 18 or from wearing masks, disguises or hoods during the holiday. Offenders are also instructed not to put up decorations for the holiday, answer their door to trick-or-treaters or leave their porch lights on while children are roaming the neighborhoods. The regulations are designed to prohibit activities that would entice children to go to the homes of sex offenders.
In addition to heeding the signs, St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Smith also urges parents to check their trick-or-treating route against his agency's list of registered sex offenders, which is available on its website at www.stpso.com. The site gives information on convicted offenders that includes their address, photos, the crimes they have been convicted of and other information. The website allows users to see where all the sex offenders in an area live and residents can also sign up to be alerted when a new offender moves nearby. St. Tammany Parish deputies verify that convicted sex offenders still live where they are registered every 90 days and those who fail to update their information or who violate the regulations can face between two and 10 years in prison.
The Sheriff’s Office will have an extra deputy presence in neighborhoods Halloween night, patrolling with their overhead lights. If anyone sees something suspicious, they are asked to call 911.
The St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office also recently partnered with OffenderWatch, the same Covington-based company that provides the software for the STPSO sex offender registry, to offer a new mobile app to keep families and children safer online.
When parents download the new OffenderWatch Safe Virtual Neighborhood app on their child’s device, the app monitors the child’s Snapchat activity, texts, emails, location and phone calls. The app sends an immediate alert to parents if a registered sex offender contacts the child, or if the child lingers near the address of a sex offender.
“Our mission is to help law enforcement better protect communities from sexual predators, so we are constantly innovating to offer new solutions for both our virtual and physical worlds,” said Mike Cormaci, president and co-founder of OffenderWatch. “As predators continue to groom and solicit children online, we’re helping law enforcement and families combat these efforts before it becomes a tragedy. If Safe Virtual Neighborhood helps to save one child from abuse, it’s worth it.”
“It is unfortunate that we have to go to such measures to protect our children from these predators,” Sheriff Smith said. “But we are happy to partner with OffenderWatch to provide parents with every tool possible to help protect their children.”