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It's that time of year again. From the Green Mountains to the Blue Ridge, the leaves on the trees are orange, red, and yellow. The first frost has set foot on the Midwest plains and freshly fallen snow dusts the mountain tops along the Continental Divide.

The sports universe is chock-full of activity. The World Series is underway with the Houston Astros and the Atlanta Braves heading into the weekend knotted up at one game apiece. Football season is at its peak—high school kids shine under the Friday night lights, student athletes on college campuses play wall-to-wall all day Saturday, and the big guys play for big money on Sundays. The NBA season opened last week—the 75th anniversary of that league's play. The NHL dropped the puck the week prior, with most pundits predicting the top teams to be the Lightning and the Avalanche (who doesn't like a good natural disaster?).

For kids of all ages, the biggest costume party on the planet is about to take place—Halloween is once again upon us. After being all but cancelled due to the global pandemic in 2020, all indications are that Halloween will be quite an event this year.

Police officers nationwide are preparing to protect kids of all ages from themselves, each other, and all manner of potential public safety threats, so it's time once again for cops across the country to hunker down for another fun "night of the living weirdos."

PSAs, Pot Candy, Toy Guns, and Tomfoolery

By now just about any agency that will post a PSA on Halloween child safety has already done so. Law enforcement agencies around the country are warning parents about the possibility of finding marijuana-laced "candy" or other "edibles" in children's trick-or-treat baskets.

They're doing PSAs encouraging adult supervision of kids' activities, advising parents and guardians to check candy for choking hazards, suggesting that homeowners be vigilant for vandals, and counseling bartenders to keep close tabs on patrons bar tabs.

Departments don't need to invest a ton of time or creativity in getting the message out—even a short "talking head" video of an officer speaking directly to a webcam and posted to an agency's social media pages has the potential to save a life. The effort is worth it.

Another undertaking that can benefit both police and the community is for officers to be granted the latitude to have some fun with the holiday.

For example, the Atlanta (GA) Police Department collected and distributed new (and "gently-used") costumes to local kids who might otherwise not have access to one. Meanwhile, the Marblehead (MA) Police Department collected "extra" Halloween candy—and will continue to do so through the middle of November—to pass along to charitable organizations Operation Troop Support and the Marblehead Food Pantry.

There are, of course, many agencies that will have officers dress in superhero costumes and pay visits to children's hospitals and medical treatment facilities. Some departments will host Halloween parties at the headquarters building.

There is also a very dark side of the Halloween holiday to be mindful of... remember that while children get into costumes pretending to be adults, adults often overindulge in spiked spiced punch and behave like children.

There will be people dressed in all manner of attire—ghouls, ghosts, goblins, gargoyles, and gunslingers.

Indeed, some costumes will include what look to be very real weapons—the issue of "toy guns" is never more prevalent than it is on Halloween—and some of those objects might actually be real weapons.

My favorite law enforcement Halloween story was told to me by a retired cop a few years ago. A call came in that someone was wandering around a neighborhood with a gas-operated chainsaw. A man was dressed up as "Leatherface" from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie and fortunately had the presence of mind to turn the thing off and put it down when police arrived, but that incident could have ended badly for just about everyone involved.

Beware the knuckleheads.

Extreme caution must be taken whenever an officer encounters a person holding something resembling a weapon.

Traffic Enforcement is Paramount

Halloween is the deadliest day of the year for child pedestrians. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, children are three times more likely to be struck and killed by a car on the holiday than any other day of the year.

A study conducted by State Farm and research expert Bert Sperling analyzed more than four million records in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) from 1990 to 2010 for children up to 18 years of age on Halloween. That study found that one-fourth of accidents occurred from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m.—more than 60% of the accidents occurred in the 4-hour period from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m.

It's unsurprising that the State Farm/Sperling study found that more than 70% of the accidents occurred away from an intersection or crosswalk. Kids dart out into traffic from between parked cars. Their vision is diminished by cumbersome masks. They're hopped up on sugar with the burning desire to get more.

The State Farm/Sperling study found also that drivers ages 15-25 accounted for nearly one-third of all fatal accidents involving child pedestrians on Halloween.

Law enforcement agencies across the country are significantly stepping up patrols and placing DUI checkpoints all over town. Some agencies can afford to put personnel on foot patrol in areas known to have lots of trick-or-treaters scurrying about, potentially into oncoming traffic.

It must be noted that in the main, the likelihood of a child being fatally struck by a car on Halloween is extremely low, given the many of millions of young ones running around in the street that night, but still, the danger is real, and any child killed in this way is a terrible—and often avoidable—tragedy.

Finally, if ever there's a night to slow down behind the wheel while running code 3 to a call, Halloween is it.

Final Words

Here's a fun fact from the history books. This modern holiday can be traced back more than 2,000 years to the Celtic Festival of Samhain which—according to legend—marked the official end of harvest season and the beginning of winter.

According to some Celtic literature, the event featured bonfires and ceremonies aimed at beckoning spirits from their burial grounds. Feasts were apparently shared, and in time, costumes were added to the festivities.

In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated the first day of November as All Saints Day, commandeering some of the Pagan traditions in order to bolster popularity of his own invention. In time, the last day of October became known as All Hallows Eve, and later Halloween.

Why the history lesson?

If your city has a history of something strange happening on Halloween, be prepared for history to repeat itself. Some neighborhoods light up with jack-o-lanterns—others light up with gunfire.

Be prepared, and stay safe this Halloween.

Author

Doug Wyllie
Doug Wyllie

Web Editor

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

View Bio

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

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