KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Five years ago, Missouri legislators passed a set of controversial restrictions on registered sex offenders meant to protect trick-or-treaters on Halloween. Neighboring Kansas has no similar state a law, creating a disparity one border county has sought to address with a unique program.
Missouri's rules have been well publicized , requiring registered sex offenders to turn off their exterior lights at 5 p.m., and stay inside their homes until 10:30 p.m. Offenders must also post signs warning would-be trick-or-treaters that they would find no candy at their homes.
While the rules have been narrowed slightly by legal challenges, they far outpace those of neighboring Kansas, which has no Halloween-specific restrictions on sex offenders, according to a 25-year veteran court services officer.
"In Kansas for registered sex offenders there really are no rules," Johnson County Court Services Officer Lisa Fleming told 41 Action News. "Halloween is just too much of a temptation. Most of our offenders have no contact rules with children under the ages of 18, but of course on Halloween that's who comes to people's doors on Halloween-- is children under the age of 18."
While many municipalities on both sides of the border boost patrols and ask police and sheriff's deputies to check in on sex offenders on Halloween, Fleming said Johnson County officials realized the growth of the sex offender population there-- now about 600-- had outpaced the ability of law enforcement to check on everyone.
With that in mind, five years ago Johnson County began its own program: requiring sex offenders under court supervision to come to the court services building on Halloween night. There, roughly 140 sex offenders on probation for various offenses will spend the hours between 6 and 9 p.m. on Thursday in therapy and educational sessions rather than at home.
"We have them here, where we know where they are," Fleming said. "They're not at home and they're held accountable here in our office while they're learning."
Fleming said she felt if the Johnson County program could be expanded, it would be a more effective fit for Kansans than simply adopting Missouri's statutes.
"I think that we should have something that encompasses all the registered offenders," she said. "Unfortunately right now we don't have it and we do the best with what we have, and what we can do with the registered offenders that we have on probation."
Fleming and other law enforcement sources encourage parents to be familiar with registered sex offenders who live in their neighborhoods and to consult public databases before trick-or-treating.
Warning kids about which homes to stay away from is the best way to keep them safe, Fleming explained.
Search Missouri's public database here: http://www.mshp.dps.missouri.gov/MSHPWeb/PatrolDivisions/CRID/SOR/SORPage.html
Search Kansas' public database here: http://www.kbi.ks.gov/registeredoffender/