With a rash of “creepy clown” sightings across the country, police departments in San Diego County are advising the public – adults, in particular – to use caution if wearing a clown costume this Halloween.
“Since there has been a lot of negative attention associated with clowns both locally and nationally, it may be wise for people, especially adults, to choose another costume,” Officer Mark Herring, of the San Diego Police Department (SDPD), told NBC 7.
While wearing a clown costume or mask is by no means criminal, Herring said the costumes, due to the “creepy clown” trend, may incite fear or nervousness in people trick-or-treating or enjoying Halloween festivities in San Diego.
“If a person can avoid these fears or concerns by dressing up as something other than a clown or not wearing a mask, it may be a more enjoyable Halloween for everybody,” Herring added.
In recent months, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, police have been making arrests in hoaxes involving people dressed up in scary clown costumes. In some cases, clown-clad pranksters have stalked schools or made threats on social media. In other cases, those in the creepy costumes have exhibited menacing behavior.
Officer Chad Bell, of the La Mesa Police Department (LMPD), said that although there have been no reports of clown sightings in La Mesa, the department’s advice to those who opt to dress as clowns on Halloween this year is plain and simple.
“Don’t act in a threatening manner,” said Bell.
Bell told NBC 7 the hyped-up clown trend is not really a concern for the LMPD at this point, but anytime that adults are wearing masks – even on Halloween – it is a cause for concern from a police standpoint.
He said that those who choose to wear a clown costume on the holiday that includes a mask should wear their clown mask on their head, not their face, to avoid frightening others.
“Halloween is supposed to be a day of fun,” said Bell. “Wear [a mask] on your head so people can see your face.”
Over in the South Bay, Chula Vista Police Department Capt. Lon Turner also said Halloween revelers should “use common sense” when choosing any costume.
Due to the national attention currently fixated on clowns, Turner expects some locals to wear “creepy clown” costumes on Halloween, but said those who do should use sound judgment and take extra steps to make sure others can tell it’s only a costume.
“It is not advisable to carry any real weapons – firearms, edged weapons, etc. – or weapons that could be perceived as real,” Turner explained. “The items carried should be clearly identifiable as fake.”
Bell agreed on any props that one might use on Halloween to accompany a costume.
“Make sure any [pretend] weapons look very, very fake,” he added.
Lt. Alex Hernandez, of the National City Police Department, told NBC 7 parents should certainly use caution when deciding what kind of costume to buy for their children for Halloween. He said the NCPD will soon post Halloween safety tips to the department’s website.
Hernandez said a PSA recently produced by the City of Miami Police Department and posted to Facebook is a good example of how a clown prank could have serious consequences, including someone getting injured, which could lead to an arrest for the prankster.
Hernandez said his department is tuned into the clown trend and is monitoring for any copy-cat incidents or sightings in National City and, if necessary, will “take enforcement action.”
“We’re working with our school districts to keep them updated as to current clown issues that may affect our districts or students,” Hernandez told NBC 7. “We will follow up and investigate any threat or possible threats that are related to the clown trend.”
Earlier this month, Montgomery Middle School in El Cajon was the target of a clown-focused hoax posted to social media.
On Oct. 6, the El Cajon Police Department (ECPD) said a 7th grade student made a series of posts on Instagram threatening violence at the school in San Diego's East County. The student used a screen name that mentioned clowns. Police quickly identified the minor who made the posts and determined there was no credible threat to the school. Still, to ensure safety, the ECPD sent an officer to the campus for the day.
ECPD Lt. Rob Ransweiler said that since that Oct. 6 incident, his department has not received any other calls about clowns. Ransweiler said he's in the process of consulting with officers in the field on how to best advise the community for a safe and fun Halloween outing.
Meanwhile, several local schools, including Tierra Bonita Elementary School in Poway, have banned clown costumes at upcoming Halloween events to ensure everyone feels safe during the festivities.
As the clown trend continues to sweep the country, Target confirmed to NBC's "Today" show Tuesday that it was pulling its creepy clown costumes and masks from its stores and website.