Seligman makes plans in advance to protect community
State statute requires sex offender to post sign and turn off lights
Halloween is still three months away, but the city of Seligman is already taking measures to plan for children's safety by ensuring residents' and the city's compliance with a state-mandated sex offenders ordinance.
During the popular holiday, parents share the same concern for their children's safety as they go from door-to-door collecting candy, and one way they can keep them safe is by checking the neighborhood for sex offenders, which is a matter of public knowledge.
Currently, Missouri law requires sex offenders to post a sign in their yard to inform the public they are not allowed to hand out candy. They are also required to turn off their porch light.
"There's a state statute for sex offenders which says they must put signs up saying 'no candy available here,' and they're not allowed to have porch lights on that would attract trick-or-treaters, or otherwise advertise they have candy," said Brian Nichols, Seligman city clerk. "We just brought it up to the board whether we should adopt the ordinance, and whether we could write a citation so we could enforce it ourselves if offenders didn't comply with the statute. As it stands right now, our officers can do a probable cause statement and submit that to Barry County Prosecutor Amy Boxx to see if she wants to prosecute."
Nichols said the Barry County Sheriff's website has a database of sex offenders registered in Barry County, including an online map, that anyone can access.
He said if an offender doesn't comply with the statute, parents won't know they are an offender unless they take it upon themselves to find out through the databases.
There is a downside to the statute for some offenders, though, Nichols said, in that those seeing the sign often assign a label, without knowing the details.
"The bad thing is, there's more to it than just the label," Nichols said. "An individual could have had consensual sex with a minor, and may not have gone out and committed an intentional crime, but the parents still pressed charges, so he's forever registered as a sex offender.
"Or, if person urinated on side of road and someone drives by and reports you, you can be deemed a sex offender, and even worse if children see you, you are forever labeled a sex offender. There's a lot of cases like that and people don't look at the details but at the label."
Nichols said the point of the ordinance is about taking an extra step to keep children safe.
"It's not a common, everyday thing you think about, and we're just trying to do our job and keep our community safe."
Along with ensuring neighborhoods are safe for children, the city is also already planning for the holiday event.
"We're in the planning stages of getting the community center set up to do the trick-or-treat at city hall where local businesses and kids come out and we pass out candy," Nichols said. "We don't want to get to the last moment and we're scrambling, so we're already looking at what candies are available to start purchasing so we'll be prepared."
The city of Cassville enforces the sex offender ordinance, said Cassville Police Chief Dana Kammerlohr.
"Cassville Police Department follows the state statute," Kammerlohr said. "Officers are assigned to check the sex offender roster at the Barry County Sheriff's Office [and check offenders for compliance]. If there is a violation, then a report is made and procedures are followed through state court, not municipal.
"Parents may check the Missouri State Highway Patrol, or the Barry County Sheriff's Office websites to look up registered sex offenders."
Along with checking databases, Kammerlohr cautioned parents to take these extra measures to ensure their children's safety during the holiday.
"Always go over the stranger danger rules," she said. "Be with young children when they go from house-to-house. Costumes should be where children can see and move easily, plus others can see them when it is dark."