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Meeting keeps sex offenders off streets during trick-or-treat

October 29, 2009|By BRIDGET DiCOSMO

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Law enforcement officials in Washington County expect more than 65 registered sex offenders to spend four hours tonight at a meeting designed to keep them away from children during trick-or-treat hours.

The meeting -- part of an initiative undertaken in cooperation with the Maryland Division of Parole and Probation -- will be from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Washington County Sheriff's Department, Sheriff Douglas Mullendore said.

Rounding up certain categories of offenders and keeping them in one place while children in the community are trick-or-treating is something local law enforcement agencies have been doing for several years.

This year, they are targeting only those offenders who either have special conditions of their convictions ordering them to stay away from children or those whose cases involved child victims, said Eleanor McMullen, executive assistant for Parole and Probation.

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"We've kind of fine-tuned it over the years," McMullen said.

Should any sex offenders who are required to go to the meeting fail to show up, they might be referred to court authorities, but Mullendore said he couldn't recall a time when that has happened.

Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith said he attends the yearly meeting and thinks it has been relatively successful.

"We haven't had anything bad happen on Halloween," Smith said.

According to Maryland's Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, there are 126 sex offenders registered with Hagerstown addresses.

All 65 to 70 registered sex offenders currently under the supervision of Parole and Probation in Washington County are to attend the meeting, but only 40 are among those pinpointed as a potential threat to children.

Smith said he believes the concept of keeping track of where the most dangerous offenders are on a night when there are so many children out helps put the community at ease.

"It does make you feel a little better letting your kids go trick-or-treating if you know where all of the sex offenders are," Smith said.

At the meeting, Parole and Probation agents will use the opportunity to review the status of offenders' cases and make sure sex offender registry information is updated, McMullen said.

In addition to the meeting, Parole and Probation agents will conduct home visits at the houses of registered sex offenders statewide to be certain they are complying with mandatory regulations, Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services spokesman Mark Vernarelli said.

Offenders in Maryland received letters from the state this year with instructions asking them to help ease their neighbors' concerns by complying with requests to post "no candy" signs on their doors and to turn the lights off after 6 p.m., when trick-or-treating begins in Hagerstown and other communities.

"This holiday provides an opportunity for you to clearly convey that message to the community -- to show that you are making a sincere effort to change the direction of your life and thus regain their acceptance," Parole and Probation Director Patrick McGee wrote in the letter.

Offenders who are ordered by the court to stay away from children could receive parole violations for participating in trick-or-treat, McMullen said.

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