Connecting state and local government leaders

From Fear to Fun, Detroit Shifts Halloween Focus

Planned events include candy giveaways at fire departments and police precincts.

Planned events include candy giveaways at fire departments and police precincts. Shutterstock


Connecting state and local government leaders

The city is discontinuing its anti-arson patrols in favor of community- and kid-friendly Halloween events.

After more than two decades of using organized citizen patrols to prevent Halloween-related arson, officials in Detroit are shifting their focus to make the spooky holiday more about fun for kids.

“We made a promise to Detroit’s children that from now on, Halloween is going to be for them,” Mayor Mike Duggan said in a news release promoting the new initiative, dubbed “Halloween in the D.” “Halloween in the D will be the start of a very special new tradition in our city, something all Detroiters will be proud to say is especially their own.”

The now-disbanded patrols, dubbed “Angels’ Night,” were started in 1995 after hundreds of fires blazed in the city the previous year on “Devil’s Night,” the eve of Halloween. More than 300 teenagers were arrested in 1994 for violating a city-wide curfew intended to prevent Halloween-related mischief, the New York Times reported.

"This goes back to one of our worst nights since I have been on the job," then-Fire Chief Archie Warde told the Times.

Angels’ Night, typically stretching from Oct. 29 to Oct. 31, called on Detroit residents to volunteer to “patrol city streets, turn on their porch lights and watch over their neighborhoods,” according to an archived city website.

Arson decreased from year to year as the campaign gained momentum. Recently, fires during the three-day stretch went from 97 in 2014 to 54 in 2017—“essentially no different than any other three-day period in the city,” according to the city’s website. As crime decreased, Angels’ Night morphed into “more of a festive, community-building event,” the Detroit Free Press reported.

“Halloween in the D,” kicking off Oct. 29, turns that spirit into official city policy. Rather than coordinating neighborhood patrols, city officials are “encouraging residents to volunteer to support efforts to provide fun activities for youth in Detroit.”

"The mayor, along with a lot of other people, wanted to see more emphasis on fun activities for children," Erinn Harris, manager of Detroit's District 3 and chair of Halloween in the D, told Route Fifty. "Angels' Night really didn't do that. It focused more on patrolling and anti-arson, and we wanted to focus more on the children."

City officials have ramped up events for children in the past few years, implementing "trunk-or-treat" at every police precinct and debuting a small haunted park on the west side last year. Halloween in the D goes much further, with dozens of scheduled events including candy giveaways at fire departments, large-scale haunted parks (themes include a haunted locker room, zombie ruins and a creepy carnival) and activities for kids, teens and seniors (costume parties, a pumpkin plunge and crazy hat bingo, among others) at recreation centers throughout the city.

Citizens who still wish to patrol during Halloween are encouraged to join existing year-round neighborhood radio patrols, which help police keep tabs on different areas of the city. Residents can also volunteer by decorating their car for “trunk-or-treat” events at police stations or by donating candy at precincts or recreation centers.

There's little concern that disbanding the official patrols will lead to increased arson around the Halloween holiday, partially because of the number of abandoned structures—roughly 15,000—that have been demolished within city limits in the past few years, limiting targets for would-be fire-starters, Harris said.

"I don't think there’s any concern that there will be a spike," she said. "We just believe it will be a normal fire day, so we don't believe it's going to be any more during that time period than it would be during the rest of the year."

In a letter to potential sponsors, Duggan praised the progress made by Angels’ Night and highlighted the change in city policy.

“Over the last 30 years, the city of Detroit has solicited donations and recruited volunteers for our traditional anti-arson campaign, Angels' Night. This year marks a major shift in our focus,” he wrote. “From now on, Halloween in Detroit isn’t going to be about fear, it’s going to be about fun.”

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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