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Posting #147 – Virginia’s Halloween Restrictions

Dear Virginia Media,

Halloween. The time to dress up as your favorite cartoon character, hero, villain or goblin. It’s the time to overly decorate your front door, your porch and your yard. It’s also the time to take photos of your children in their costumes right before you take them trick or treating or before you send them off with your spouse and you stay behind to hand out treats. It’s a time we dispel fear by making light of the fears we have. Sadly our government is imparting true fear on us where none needs to exist. They’ve created a twisted form of trick or treat, but they actually do both. The treat that we give government is our hard earned dollars that we pay in taxes for real protection, the trick played upon us by our government the myth that on this evening they are making us safer by punishing others. The excitement of Halloween is shared by all, unless you are a Registered Sex Offender in Virginia.

Back in 2002 a Virginia Department of Corrections employee named James Camache conceived an idea, Operation Trick Not Treat (TNT) for all Probationers who are also Registered Sex Offenders. Operation “TNT” started in the Norfolk and Virginia Beach areas and has spread across the Commonwealth to Chesapeake, Suffolk, Newport News, Hampton, Williamsburg, Gloucester, Prince William County, Petersburg, Fredericksburg, Winchester, Fairfax, Alexandria, Roanoke and Radford over the last seven years.

During the hours of 4:30pm through 8:00pm on every October 31 those who are on probation and bear the label Registered Sex Offender in participating counties and cities must travel to their probation office to update their registration information that they already update every 90 days and where Probation Officers conduct educational sessions, drug and alcohol screenings, address supervision issues and provide custodial searches of offenders and oversight of any existing warrants.

In some areas of Virginia instead of Operation Trick Not Treat the DOC has their Registered Sex Offenders participate in Operation Porch Light Out. Those offenders are required not to participate in any Halloween activities, to remain in their homes with their porch lights out and they may not answer the door for trick-or-treaters. To ensure offender compliance, the DOC Probation and Parole Officers along with law enforcement officers make home visits.

I checked in with the Virginia DOC to inquire what areas would be observing which programs this Halloween and as of October 5, the DOC replied, “Currently the DOC is asking each District Office to advise us which option of either and/or both plans, “Operation Trick No Treat” or “Operation Porch Lights Out.” they will be implementing. Each District Office makes its decision and designs its plan after evaluating the resources available and the number of Sex Offenders under supervision.  These operations represent a collaborative effort between DOC Community Corrections, State Police, and local law enforcement.  Participating District Offices notify each Offender of this requirement by telephone, letter, or both”.

If an offender fails to comply with either/or both of these operations in their area they could face new charges for probation violations which would result in jail time.

The goal of these programs as repeatedly stated over the past seven years by the different DOC spokes people is “no new victims”.

Sometimes in the rush to feel better we miss the obvious question. “Before these two programs existed and since they’ve been implemented have any of Virginia’s children ever been abducted, molested or killed on Halloween night by a Registered Sex Offender? The answer both before and after implementation, is No!

Most states classify Sex Offenders by their likelihood of committing new crimes (a three tiered system) but unfortunately they do not distinguish between pedophiles and those whose crimes were against adults. Virginia has done even less. We have not implemented the recommended three tiered system, we only classify as Non-Violent or as Violent. As such the registry becomes awash in faces that have no real meaning. The fact is that the Virginia General Assembly regularly upgrades those whom the Virginia courts have classified as Non-Violent to a Violent classification. The current Sex Offender Registry makes it impossible for us to decipher who is a pedophile, whose crime was against an adult, whose crime was actually a consensual underage act or even who was wrongly accused and convicted by our broken justice system? There remains no way for you to know who is a true public threat and who is a victim of an overly zealous system, so by default you assume the worst. The current trend only leads to confusion and the system overly burdened. The true threats become anonymous in the mix.

Back in 2002, Christopher F. Pate, Chief Probation and Parole Officer in Norfolk said about the TNT program, “It’s better to prevent a possible crime than to apprehend someone afterward”.

In 2004 Kent Willis, executive director of the ACLU in Virginia when asked about the TNT Program, said requiring parolees to attend mass meetings is within the law, but just barely. “There’s something slightly unsavory about this”.

The simple fact is, these feel-good programs that cost the taxpayers additional money to implement, make no difference and they definitely violate civil rights. America is not supposed to punish through fear, we’re suppose to punish through fact. Fact: Nine out of ten sex offenses are perpetrated by someone the victim already knows and trusts. Fact: Most sex offenses are committed by a first time offender. Fact: Fewer victims are prey to someone listed on the sex offender registry than are victims of someone not listed. These simple facts add up to a strange but undeniable truth, simply persecuting those on the registry only spends taxpayer’s money and does nothing to make Virginia safer. If we are truly living in such fear, then simply do not visit the house of someone listed on registry. Odds are they currently fear you more than you need to fear them.

If Virginia is going to continue to persecute and round up citizens because of something they might do, then why don’t we regularly round-up every citizen that has ever had a DUI or DWI on New Years Eve? It doesn’t matter if they committed the offense 5, 10, 15, 20 or 25 years ago, it’s New Years Eve and they have a history of drinking and driving then our government can’t trust them not to drink and drive on this the most tempting day of the year.

These two Virginia Halloween programs perpetuate the urban myth that there are predators in our community lying in wait for some child to enter into their trap. For years our parents were afraid of the razor blades in an apple myth that have been circulated for decades without any evidential support. The main problem is this tactic gives the community a false sense of security thinking that violent sexual predators are being incapacitated when in fact that the very real threat that exists within victim’s homes is ignored.

Our Government has singled out a group of people and used them as an easy platform to win elections and instill fear into the parents of our state so that they will look like heroes and we have all fallen for it. It’s time to ask, if you are going to spend my money then how does this really make me and my family safe? If all you get is a long pause with facts to back up the claim then we serve no-one. It’s time to stop playing trick or treat with our lives.

RSOL of Virginia

Halloween Sex Offender Policies Questioned, October 22, 2009:
New Report “How Safe Are Trick-or-Treaters?: An Analysis of Child Sex Crime Rates on Halloween”
Using the National Incident-Base Reporting System, the study looked at more than 67,000 non-family sex offenses reported to law enforcement in 30 states across nine years. Taking into account such variables as time, seasonality and weekday periodicity, the researchers found no increased rate of sexual abuse during the Halloween season. Additionally, the number of reported incidences didn’t vary before or after police procedures were implemented to prevent such abuse.
“We do not suggest that there is no risk on Halloween or that parents should abandon caution and supervision of their children,” write the authors in the article. “But there does not appear to be a need for alarm concerning sexual abuse on these particular days. In short, Halloween appears to be just another autumn day where rates of sex crimes against children are concerned.”
Research has found that the highest danger for children during the Halloween season was from pedestrian- motor vehicle accidents, not from sexual abuse by strangers.
“It is important for policy makers to consider allocation of resources in light of the actual increased risks that exist in areas besides Halloween sex offender policies,” the authors conclude. “Our findings indicated that sex crimes against children by nonfamily members account for 2 out of every 1,000 Halloween crimes, calling into question the justification for diverting law enforcement resources away from more prevalent public safety concerns.”
http://www.physorg.com/news175442514.html

1st Response to Posting #147
From: Ann
Date: 10/13/09

Funny that you ask.

Last year I picked up the mail when I got home from work, on Halloween 10/31, and  found a letter in our mailbox saying my husband had to be home by 4:30pm, it was already 4:15pm and he was at work with no clue there was a restriction.

He called his PO immediately and told him where he was and that he was on his way home as soon as he packed up his things.

This year he received the letter on 10/10/09.

It’s below.  As you can see, this is much more organized this year than last year.

The most difficult part is that our business  is an hour from our home so he will have to close early so he can be home by 4:30.

Thanks for your work!

10/07/09

Dear Offender, (yes it really says that)

District ____ Probation and Parole will be conducting a no Trick no Treat lights out campaign for Halloween 2009. You are hereby instructed to abide by the following instructions on 10/31/09 (Halloween).

  • Be at home between 1600 and midnight
  • Turn off all outside lighting
  • Lock the outside doors and do not answer for children that are trick or treating
  • Do not participate in ant Halloween activity involving children
  • Do not hand out any gifts or treats to children on Halloween
  • Your cooperation is appreciated and you are reminded that failure to comply with these          instructions will be considered a violation of your probation

    Sincerely
    Virginia Probation and Parole Officer