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Operation Halloween aims to keep children safe

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By ANDY GARDNER

FORT COVINGTON - While children are out trickortreating, many parents may worry about the kids’ safety because of registered sex offenders living in their communities.

But parole officers from the New York state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (NYSDOCCS) were going throughout the state Wednesday making sure sex offender parolees were in compliance with the terms of their release as part of Operation Halloween.

Senior parole officer Bob Fall and parole officer Steve Regan checked in with paroled sex offenders living in the area in Franklin County near the St. Lawrence County border late in their shift on Halloween.

Parolees are required to abide by parole conditions while under supervision, which include a curfew, maintaining employment, not using drugs or alcohol and keeping NYSDOCCS updated with their current address. Some are on GPS monitoring and/or take random polygraph tests, where they are asked if they are obeying their release conditions.

On Halloween, sex offender parolees are required to be in their homes by noon and remain there until 6 a.m. the following day, unless they have a legitimate reason approved by their parole officer. They are forbidden from decorating their residence, dressing in costumes, handing out candy, and even answering the door if trick-or-treaters knock.

“The goal of the operation is for Halloween to be a safe and fun experience for children and their families in our communities and for us to make sure so (sex offender) parolees are not participating in any Halloween activities,” Mr. Fall said.

Although their day began in Clinton and Essex counties, Mr. Fall and Mr. Regan had four paroled sex offenders to check on in Fort Covington, followed by several in the village of Malone. The first was not at his listed address, but they were able to determine his approximate whereabouts. They later had go search for the man. Mr. Fall said the offender’s release conditions included updating Mr. Regan, his regular parole officer, with his current address, meaning he will most likely return to state prison.

“It appears he was evicted yesterday and he failed to tell us,” Mr. Fall said.

The second offender the officers checked on, Frank Miller, 82, after answering the door in his underwear and donning a bathrobe at the officers’ request, consented to talk about what it’s like being on parole and having officers randomly come check his house.

“I understand why, it’s obvious and probably a good idea,” Miller said. “I wouldn’t want the job of a parole officer of people like me.”

Miller, a Level 3 sex offender, served about seven years in prison for a first-degree sodomy conviction and was paroled in April 2009. He spoke positively of Mr. Regan, his regular parole officer.

He said that he sees an increasing problem in Franklin County of sex offenders being paroled and subsequently becoming homeless because of their criminal history.

Mr.. Fall administered a breathalyzer test and asked him questions to ensure he was complying with his parole. As he did this, Mr. Regan looked around the apartment for contraband or evidence that he is not following his release conditions. He used a flashlight to check in dimly lit corners.

Mr. Fall and Mr. Regan did similar checks on other parolees. In one case, Mr. Regan opened an offender’s bookbag and took out a copy of the video game World of Warcraft and looked through that to make sure there was nothing that shouldn’t be there.

Most of their questioning revolved around making sure the parolees are staying where they’re supposed to and reminding them they are not to leave their residences until 6 a.m. Thursday. In one case in Malone, Mr. Regan seemed at first concerned because an offender was living with an individual and the pair did not know each other’s last names.

One of the parolees brought up his concerns that he might be violating his conditions because he was subpoenaed for child support, which he said he had started paying, but Mr. Fall told him that since the payments were not under his conditions that he should be in the clear.

Mr. Fall and Mr. Regan said intuition is part of their job; they get to know their parolees and can generally tell when something is amiss. They said they are trained in reading body language and spotting signs of deception.

“We develop pretty good relations with our parolees because we have so much contact with them,” Mr. Fall said.

Mr. Fall said rates of sex offenders committing another sex crime are fairly low, comparatively.

“It’s lower than the regular parole population,” he said, adding that he feels most parolees for any type of crime are motivated to do what they’re supposed to simply because they don’t want to go back to prison.

To see where sex offenders are living in a community, go to http://www.criminaljustice.ny.gov/SomsSUBDirectory/search_index.jsp to search the New York state sex offender registry. Go to https://www.parole.ny.gov/lookup.html to search a database of New York state parolees.

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