Wednesday, December 11, 2013
BY MATT HONGOLTZ-HETLING Staff Writer
Halloween, with its history of horror films, mischievous pranks and door-to-door adventuring, always comes with a host of safety concerns, some of which are better substantiated than others.
This year, groups in Oakland and Benton are offering safer alternatives to trick or treating in an effort to get children off the streets.
"We felt like, in this day and age, it's getting harder and harder feeling comfortable taking your kids door to door," Diane Pierce, president of the Parent Teacher Organization at Benton Elementary School.
Instead of taking her own two young girls throughout a residential neighborhood, Pierce will be taking them to the elementary school parking lot to have their fun.
During the event, Trick or Trunk, which runs from 5:30 to 6:15 p.m. Thursday, adults will dispense candy from the trunks of their vehicles, while children go from car to car in the parking lot. Transportation department workers have set up two haunted buses, a scarier one for the larger kids, and a less scary one for the smaller children. There will also be a haunted hayride in the fields behind the school.
Jane Reardon, a child nutritionist who manages the Benton school kitchen, said she plans to bring her 9-year-old step-grandson to the event.
"It's safe," she said. "You know the people who are there."
Pierce said the cars in the parking lot are not allowed to move during the event, addressing one of the key worries of parents -- that their children, wearing costumes that limit visibility and mobility, will run into the street and be hit by a car.
It's a real concern about the estimated 35 million trick or treating children, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
A study by the centers found that during a 20-year period ending in 1996, an average of four children aged 5 to 14 died in car accidents on Halloween nights, as compared to an average of one child on any other night.
In Oakland, the police department is trying to establish a new Halloween tradition -- a Halloween parade.
"We're trying to create a safe environment for the kids," Oakland police Captain Rick Stubbert said. "It's not that trick or treating isn't safe, but this is a little safer."
The parade will begin at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Williams Elementary School on Pleasant Street, and will allow children to walk the streets without the threat of motorists.
Stubbert said the department recognizes vehicle traffic as the biggest legitimate threat to children on Halloween.
"Our main concern is keeping the kids safe while they're walking on the street," he said. "We ask that drivers go very slow and be aware. We always ask that people be vigilant."
One Halloween fear is that children are more likely to fall prey to sex crimes as they dress up and knock on strangers' doors.
In some states, police undertake special duties targeting sex offenders. In Wisconsin, police and corrections department officers make random visits to the homes of sex offenders on Halloween night to make sure they aren't using the holiday as a cover to target children.
But research studies show that this is more of a spooky tale than a proven phenomenon.
A study by the University of Oklahoma looked at national crime rates from 1997 to 2005, and found that there was no increase in such crimes on Halloween night, or on the days before Halloween, when trick or treating can also take place.
However, there have been some high-profile crimes in the area on Halloween night.
In 2007, during trick or treating hours, a man robbed Oakland Pharmacy on Main Street at knifepoint and fled past groups of trick or treaters. The crime was never solved, despite the offer of a $1,000 reward.
In 2011, three men robbed and kidnapped a couple in their Farmington home, who were held in their home at gunpoint after answering the door expecting trick or treaters. Those men were arrested and sentenced to prison in Franklin County Superior Court the following October.
Stubbert said there is an increase in criminal activity of other sorts on Halloween, but much of it is related to minor crimes, such as vandalism.
Matt Hongoltz-Hetling -- 861-9287