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Tech tools help Arizona parents, children avoid sex offenders’ houses while trick-or-treating

PHOENIX — Between costumes, candy and spooks, there are a lot of elements to consider as Halloween approaches. But many don’t think about the possibility of sex offenders living in their area passing out candy to trick-or-treaters.

All convicted sex offenders are required by law to register their address with local law enforcement so the information can be made available to the public.

This information is also being used to create useful technology tools, like the Tempe Police Department’s new smartphone app which allows community members to see current locations and information about registered sex offenders in the area.

Tempe Police Lieutenant Mike Pooley said the application is especially useful because of its mobility so trick-or-treaters can take it on the go.

“With the sex offender map you can have it in the palm of your hand with your smartphone (and) be able to have it as you’re walking around,” he said. “When you’re in the neighborhoods, you’ll be able to see who our sex offenders are.”

Pooley said registered sex offenders are not legally allowed to participate in passing out candy or other Halloween actives, so officers will also be out in neighborhoods and aware of those houses.

Beside the sex offender map, Pooley said the app has other useful features for Tempe residents such as contact information, ways to submit tips and answers to frequently asked questions.

On the web, nearly 40 Arizona law enforcement agencies are using an online search tool to help parents monitor their neighborhoods for potentially dangerous homes.

Using the search engine, called Offender Watch, residents can enter their address to see who the nearest sex offenders are in their area, or even another neighborhood if they plan to go trick-or-treating elsewhere.

Jim Knupp, spokesman for the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, one of the agencies using the tool, said the online search engine is crucial for parents, especially around Halloween.

“Citizens can actually know where these registered sex offenders live and avoid potentially dangerous homes while trick-or-treating,” he said.

The website also offers free email notifications to alert residents when a sex offender registers within a specified radius of an entered address.

Other law enforcement agencies using Offender Watch includes Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, Tempe Police Department, Coconino County Sheriff’s Office and the Tucson Police Department. The Arizona Department of Public Safety also has a similar website, though not powered by Offender Watch.

Besides the site, Knupp also discussed other safety measures to keep in mind on the spookiest night of the year.

“You should always know where your children are trick-or-treating,” he said. “Stay in your neighborhood so you only go to friends’ and neighbors’ homes, people you trust and know.”

Law enforcement also recommends using lights or glow sticks so children can be seen by traffic, examining all candy before eating it and making sure children can adequately see through their costumes, if they have masks.

KTAR’s Mark Remillard contributed to this report