Halloween is just days away — and it's understandable for parents to be apprehensive about what homes their children are approaching.

New Jersey State Police maintain a list of registered sex offenders in New Jersey communities. But it's important to understand what that information means — and what it doesn't.

Who is in on the map? The online searchable database — and the maps per town below — only include those sex offenders judged to be "tier 3" (high risk of re-offense) and "tier 2" (moderate risk). Those judgments are made using state guidelines. A "tier 3" offender, for instance, might have caused serious physical harm to a victim, might have sexually penetrated a victim or might have sexually abused a child or a stranger.

Who isn't on the map? Those in "tier" 1 are considered low risk of re-offense, and not included in these lists. Someone whose sex offense didn't involve physical force, who didn't have multiple victims and who didn't go seeking them out is more likely to be in that tier.

And don't assume that just because you have the information below, you and your child are protected. The ACLU argues the registry isn't even all that helpful — because most sex abuse victims are targeted by family members or people they already know. And many of those crimes go unreported, and never wind up on these lists.

Only you can decide what's best and prudent to protect your family — whether from potential threats like the offenders on this list, or from the everyday risks you can't anticipate.

But still, knowledge — if interpreted in the proper context — is power. So find your town in the maps compiled by City-Data.com below and see what the registry shows. Just keep the caveats in mind.

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