Monday, October 7, 2013

Salem Police, Residents at Odds on Halloween Curfews

Ann Whittier with grandson John-Iver Siegfried
 photo by Katherine Stephens
By Katherine Stephens
Gordon College News Service
Oct. 3, 2013
(This story appeared Oct. 4, 2013, in the Salem Your Town site of the Boston Globe.)

SALEM, MA—Grandmother and Salem resident for 42 years, Ann Whittier, pulls out all the stops for Halloween, decorating her house, trick-or-treating with her grandchildren, and participating in Salem’s Haunted Happenings events. Each year, Whittier meets people traveling from as far as Europe and the Midwest to experience Halloween in downtown Salem.

But Whittier also knows how frustrating it can be for visitors and locals when the Salem Police Department moves in at 10 p.m. and forms a barricade to shut down Haunted Happenings.

“People are shocked that they are pushed out of Haunted Happenings. I don’t think it’s a good idea, because a large percentage is adults, who need time to celebrate, and Halloween is a nice time to celebrate,” said Whittier. “It sort of shows disrespect to the people who have come all the way to Salem to celebrate. I wish there was more of a middle road.”

But with 60,000 to 80,000 people expected to attend this year’s Halloween from all over the country and even the world and in light of the Boston Marathon bombings, the Salem Police Department says it is strengthening security for the event and taking extra precautions to maintain a family friendly environment.

“We do always have people resisting, because no one wants to go home. People are having a good time," said Lieutenant Kate Stephens, who’s worked for the Salem Police Department since 1996.

Stephens said the Salem Police Department is taking every precaution to ensure the safety of Halloween goers. This year, a total of 235 officers—85 from the Salem Police department and 150 from the Northeastern Mass Law Enforcement Council, a law enforcement consortium—will patrol the historic downtown. The area has been divided into five sections with approximately 23 officers and three canines in each.

Beginning at 4 p.m. on Halloween, the downtown area will be closed to car traffic, and at 10 p.m. when the firework show begins, police expect to move into the area to clear the streets of all people. Once the streets are cleared, Stephens said no one will be allowed back into the area.

“Most family events close around 10 p.m., and if you look at Halloween celebrations around the country that go past ten at night, they become crazy, tipping cars over, lighting things on fire, essentially college keg parties,” said Captain Brian Gilligan. “We don’t want that.”

In years past, arrests primarily occured before midnight, according to police records. In 2011, 22 people were brought into custody, multiple custodies resulted in arrest, and in 2012, 21 people were brought to the police station.

Local resident since 2002, Mike Vitka, a guide for supernatural tours through Salem, doesn’t think the police should shut down the streets at 10 p.m. Vitka said the policy frustrates store-owners and visitors to the town.

“Everyone’s here to have fun. Nobody’s out to cause trouble. It’s when the police shut things down at ten that causes the trouble,” said Vitka. “It’s reasonably safe considering the amount of people, and you will never find anybody who works here who says it’s unsafe.”

Whittier agreed. “I grew up in Marblehead, where the attitude is more free, like you’re a grown up, you can take care of yourself. Salem’s not like this,” she said.

Despite frustration from locals and tourists in the past, the police department sees the need for increased security. Their goal is to maintain a family-friendly environment and to take extra steps to address potentially unsafe situations.

“Certainly, in light of what happened at the Marathon, there are a lot of Homeland Security precautions taken upfront to deal with the potential of that type of event, but at the end of the day, it’s an open event and we live in a free society,” Gilligan said.

As Stephens put it, “We hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”


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