The candy is a given, but the debate still continues on: does an actual uptick in crime occur every October 31st on Halloween? Turns out this can vary depending on factors as simple as the night of the week that Halloween falls on (Monday versus Friday, for example), and even the city itself. Other aspects could also have an effect: Does the city have a crime prevention program in place? Is there a college town nearby? Are programs in place for teens and young adults? Take a look at some of what has happened on Halloweens past in 10 cities and what is being done to help prevent or discourage crime there on Halloween.
Police officers in Orlando have reported that around Halloween every year an uptick in crime occurs by criminals wearing Halloween masks. In Florida, this has included two men with gorilla masks pistol-whipping a man depositing money at a credit union and two robbers wearing Halloween masks stabbing a man behind a restaurant, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Of course, the decision to put on a Halloween mask or that Scream disguise to commit a crime is not unique to Orlando alone but wearing a masking could result in other consequences in the state. For example, in Florida, anyone committing a crime while wearing a mask can face ramped-up charges. As well, a Florida law prohibits anyone over the age of 16 from wearing a mask (or hood) in a public place or during a meeting except on Halloween (and masquerades). Yes, sad to say, this dates back to the days of the Ku Klux Klan and was enacted to prevent members from wearing hoods during their Klan marches. Perhaps even scarier is that this law has been used 203 times following its 1951 passage, according to the paper.
The City of Orange had the safety of its children in mind when it passed an ordinance saying that sex offenders must post signs on their doors on Halloween to keep trick-or-treaters from knocking there. According to the L.A. Times, the city ordinance required these offenders to place a sign on their door at least 12-by-24 inches in size reading: ‘No candy or treats at this residence.’ Repercussions for failing to do so included a possible $1,000 fine or a year in jail. However, a federal lawsuit filed in September 2013 by a group called Reform Sex Offenders Laws said the city ordinance violates sex offenders’ First Amendment rights and puts them and their families at risk. There are reportedly more than 80 registered sex offenders living in the city. Nonetheless, by late September, in a 4-0 vote, the city had revoked its ordinance. “Our intent wasn’t to bring any unnecessary harm or scrutiny to any particular individual,” City Attorney Wayne Winthers told the L.A. Times. “We just wanted to protect children.”
Really, that’s a tough word to spell unless it is part of your everyday vocabulary. However, an online publication called The Georgetown Metropolitan reported that incidences of burglary tend to be more common on Halloween or on Halloween weekends in Georgetown, (in Washington D.C. for those wondering if we’re talking about Georgetown, Mass. or the nation’s capital) compared to other regular days and weekends of the year. That said, however, it is theft that has been the most prevalent crime to occur on Halloween in Georgetown, more than double the incidence of the next reported crime of robbery. And when it comes to crimes committed on Halloween weekends (that weekend that is closest to Halloween when it falls midweek), the occurrence of theft becomes even greater – nearly four times as frequent as the second most reported crime of theft from autos. Of course, these conclusions were drawn from data ranging from 2006 to 2010, but just because these results are old, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re irrelevant.
It may seem curious that police in South L.A. say they see no spike in crime on Halloween, but that may be because they deploy extra units to help with the ‘safety factor,’ as reports Southern California Public Radio. However, by safety factor they mean the tendency of trick-or-treaters to run out between moving or parked cars. Really? No spike in crime? “We’ve never had any issues as far as a spike,” Jorge Rodriguez, captain of LAPD’s Newton Division, told the news station. Indeed, the captain of another nearby division, the Southwest Division, also said that he deploys extra units to to help with the safety factor on Halloween — as related to kids. And in the city’s Southwest Division, it’s been noted that the top concerns on Halloween may be the area’s party-going college students, not spikes in crime. However, a captain of another division, its 77th Street Division, did admit to concerns about Halloween spikes in crime. In fact, in 2011, that division had 34 incidences of crime on Halloween – 10 of those being burglaries. That captain told the radio station that that number was “extraordinarily high.” Maybe things are solid just in some parts of South L.A.?
They take a different approach to discouraging crime in the month of October in the Southern California town of Lompoc. This approach involves Halloween-flocked flamingo lawn ornaments appearing in people’s front yards, according to the Lompoc Record. Yes, that means birdie lawn ornaments decked out for Halloween. The event supports the Lompoc Valley Police Activities League, which provides programming for area youth – with the idea of helping them stay out of trouble. People can request an anonymous flocking at a charge of $25 or ask for removal for a small fee. They can also purchase ‘insurance’ to protect them from a flocking. All raised money goes to Lompoc’s PAL organization, which was founded in 1998 and provides athletic, educational and recreational activities to build bonds between teen and law enforcement officers.
Police in Queens, N.Y. acting under the state’s “Operation Halloween: Zero Tolerance” program will be checking in on paroled sex offenders from Oct. 30 through to Nov. 1, as reported in the city’s Gazette. As part of this surveillance program, convicted rapists, sex offenders, and pedophiles could have their homes checked to ensure they do not have any X-rated or pornographic material, which would violate the terms of their parole. As well, sex offenders are not allowed to wear masks or costumes, cannot participate in any related Halloween activities and are prohibited from opening their doors to trick-or-treaters. “There is certainly nothing more frightening than the thought of one of these men opening their door to innocent children,” a state patrol source is quoted as saying in the article. Finally, all sex offenders must be in their homes from 3 p.m. Oct. 31st to 6 a.m. Nov. 1. Offenders who do not follow these rules could have their parole revoked and be sent back to prison.
Police at San Luis Obispo’s Cal-Poly State University typically increase their on-duty law enforcement numbers during Halloween every year. “We kind of base what the current year will be based on what we’ve seen in the past, so we try to be prepared for whatever happens,” UPD Chief Bill Watton told the school’s Mustang News. In fact, the number of crimes occurring every Halloween seem to vary depending on what day of the week Halloween falls on. For example, when it fell on a Monday in 2011, the number of campus parties and related Halloween activities seemed to be down. In that year, the university police made just five arrests — four for alcohol-related crimes and one for possession of marijuana. The City of San Luis Obispo may also be having an impact by doubling fines for certain violations, such as having open containers of alcohol in public spaces and urinating in public. “It’s one of those pieces that makes a difference, because people do understand money,” Watton told the Mustang News.
Even though Halloween fell on a Saturday in 2009, it may be cold weather that prevented its crime numbers from reaching anything out of the ordinary for the holiday in Blacksburg. “Since it was cold and rainy on Saturday night, there wasn’t a lot of people hanging out outside,” Sgt. Nathan O’Dell of the Blacksburg police told Virginia Tech University’s Collegiate Times. “One of the things you’ll see when it’s cold is that between the peak hours, which are between 10:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m., people aren’t usually outside. That actually helps with the crime itself.” In fact, in the city that year, there were 12 arrests made on Halloween, but 52 calls received by dispatch. Of those, most were related to noise complaints. On the Virginia Tech campus, six arrests were made related to alcohol and drug offenses. However, as pointed out by the paper, it may be other events on campus that result in higher number of arrests and citations. For example, a football game occurring the same week as Halloween that year led to arrest numbers more than six times that than for the holiday – 39 taken into custody, and most for alcohol-related offenses.
Niner-Online reports that crimes occurring on Halloween have remained steady since 2007 when a spate or larcenies from motor vehicles and stolen bicycles were reported on the UNC Charlotte campus. Campus Police Lieutenant Josh Huffman told the paper that the campus also does see a “slight” increase in vandalism and alcohol-related offences on Halloween, but for the most part the day is like any other in terms of crime on campus. “Halloween does not usually present an increase of crimes on campus,” Huffman told the paper. “Believe it or not we haven’t really experienced any particularly unusual incidents on campus during Halloween.” Of note, he also reminded readers of a lesser known law that exists in North Carolina – General Statute 14-21.7 – that prohibits anyone over the age of 16 from wearing a mask in public.
Although crime occurring on Halloween dropped eight percent from 2010 to 2011, theft, vandalism and simple assault have remained the most frequently-occurring crimes in Tempe on Halloween. In fact, in 2011, theft accounted for 20.7 percent of crime in the city, according to the East Valley Tribune. In 2010, simple assault topped the list, accounting for 19.1 percent of all crimes. Of course, alcohol-related incidents are also common, particularly in the city’s Mill Street area and near the Arizona State University campus, and fights that occur at these can lead to charges such as simple assault. “[P]arties can generate a lot of different things,” Lieutenant Jeffrey Glover of the Tempe Police Department told the paper. “We have a lot of calls for service so more officers are responding to calls at the night time hour. Also you have the drinking that goes on. Sometimes people don’t make the best decisions.”
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Barry is Managing Editor of ForensicsColleges.com, operated by educational web publisher Sechel Ventures Partners LLC, which he co-founded. Barry was previously VP for a financial software company, and currently sits on the board of a K-8 school and lives with his wife and daughters in the San Francisco Bay Area.