How to Protect You and Yours on Halloween: Creepy Clowns Included

This year, Halloween means something different for me.  I'm usually the first to decorate our house--taking fright to the next level by waiting outside dressed up as a scarecrow and waiting for kids to get close to the door before saying something or moving.  This year though, things are a bit different. My husband and I are expecting our first child, and are faced with trick or treating in years to come for the first time since we were kids ourselves.  This year also marks a creepy--and sometimes criminal--trend whereby clowns are turning violent.

For those with a sick, twisted sense of humor, like myself, Halloween has always been something fun and entertaining.  Halloween is rooted in ancient festivals, including the Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts.  Now, there are rumors of a clown-purge inspired by this 2013 movie, The Purge, and its sequels:


Now, not to worry--snopes says this is unlikely to be true: http://www.snopes.com/clown-purge-on-halloween/.  But, nevertheless, it does not hurt to be vigilant about safety during a time when it is literally impossible to identify anyone. 

To compound matters in recent weeks, creepy clown sightings and reports of crimes committed by clowns has swept the nation. Many of these cases are hoaxes perpetuated by children and teens, but there is an alarming trend that folks dressed as clowns are using this anonymity for things like threatening mass shootings, and calling in bomb threats to schools.  USA Today has a good list of the various reports from across the nation available online, and many are unsolved incidents.  This prompts the question--is it paranoia or actual fear prompting this many calls? 

Major retailers and law enforcement organizations are not waiting to find out. At least one rural Colorado police department has recommended nobody dress up as a clown for Halloween. Despite retail sales of creepy clown costumes being up about 300% nationally lately, Target has actually pulled clown masks from its shelves and online stores.  One British police department had as many as 14 incidents in one 24 hour period, prompting this statement to be released.  Even McDonald's has gotten involved, saying that they will reduce the number of appearances of their mascot, Ronald McDonald in coming weeks.  At least 12 people have been arrested as a result of clown-inspired criminal activity across the United States, according to the NY Times' report on the trend.

What does this mean for those accused?  Well, dressing up as a clown isn't illegal, per se.  But threatening strangers, wielding realistic-looking weapons, and calling in bomb/shooting threats whether real or not most definitely ARE illegal.  To be safe trick or treating this year, I recommend following Reader's Digest's safety tips, with some practical advice from a criminal lawyer added for your benefit: 
  1. Plan your route in advance. Walk the path in advance, during daylight hours looking for tripping hazards, hiding places for assailants, etc.  Walk it again at night to ensure working light fixtures so it will be well-lit at night.  
  2. Wear comfortable shoes.  If you've ever watched Zombieland, you know the rules: cardio, cardio, cardio. Helpful shoes to running away from your assailant--especially if they are wearing large, floppy, red clown shoes--is also something to consider. 
  3. Stay well-lit. Just like street lights can illuminate your path, flashlights, headlamps, or light-up costumes can help you see your way. 
  4. Make costumes easy to move in and short enough to avoid tripping.  If you do have to run away, tripping hazards are the surest way to ensure you cannot escape. 
  5. Avoid masked costumes.  Masks make it hard for you and/or your child to see your surroundings and severely impact your peripheral vision.
  6. Use flexible props. Avoid costumes that have weapons--which can be mistaken for real sometimes. Fake weapons should be easily identifiable as fake. In the event of tripping and falling, horseplay, and sheer accident, it's also important that fake weapons (or any part of a costume, really) is not hard enough to cause actual injury.
  7. Check your child's candy.  Do not accept homemade candy or treats from strangers.  Be sure to throw out any candy not in its original wrapper or that looks like it's been opened. 
In true-lawyer fashion, I must also add one more suggestion.  Carry a good camera or cell phone with a camera.  Adjust the camera so the flash is on at all times to ensure good photos.  If someone is threatening or creeping you out, take their picture.  Even something from afar can help police identify someone. Video is even better--but requires much better lighting, so I recommend sticking with the plain old camera. For those of you not tech-savvy, if you hold down the photo button to take a photo on your iPhone it takes a "burst" of pictures until you let up on the button.  By using the burst function, if one photo is out of focus or not aimed correctly, a second (or thirtieth) should hopefully capture the shot better.

Hopefully, these tips will help you stay informed and stay safe this Halloween weekend!