I sometimes wonder if I am the only person unwilling to open my door to an unexpected visitor. I actually go beyond just not opening my door to strangers: I also don’t make a sound and stay completely out of sight. I won’t even look out my window to see who is at my door just to make sure I am not spotted. That might sound paranoid, but who just shows up at someone else’s house without notice? The only possible (and acceptable) response is the mailman–and truthfully, I even get advanced notifications of upcoming deliveries that require my signature. So really, the answer is nobody.
My behavior developed over many years, partly in response to the sheer volume of criminal investigations I have been involved in, which demonstrated to me that nothing good comes from opening the door to random people. I have seen this single behavior result in countless reports of scams, frauds, burglaries, sexual assaults, home invasions and even murder. But my response also developed after years of personal experience of opening my doors to the wrong people.
Even though opening my own door has never resulted in a crime, it feels criminal to have to deal with unexpected visitors who might be trying to sell me something I don’t want to buy, get me to change my religious beliefs, or force-feed me their brand of politics. In short, no visitor arriving at my home without advance notice or invitation will get a response from me. I think as a society we are mostly moving toward this mindset in order to remain safe. But there is one time of year when, as a society, we seem willing (and even excited) to open our doors to strangers: Halloween.
Every October, in preparation for Halloween, the news is flooded with safety tips for trick-or-treaters. As a parent and retired police officer, I can appreciate the importance of disseminating such information, but I’ve always been curious as to why more attention isn’t paid to the danger homeowners face opening their doors to complete strangers on Halloween? There is a danger whenever we open our doors to people we don’t know, and that danger is even greater when those people are masked and unidentifiable! This year, here’s some tips and suggestions to keep homeowners safe on Halloween.
Place the candy outside your door with a sign that says, ‘Take One.’
You may think that this wouldn’t work, and some greedy children will take the whole bowl. But I have been passing candy out like this for years and I always end up with leftovers. Your results may vary; if so, consider filling the bowl partially and refilling it as needed to keep better control.
Reconsider ‘not participating’ if that means turning off the porch light.
I know some people might think, “I just won’t participate so I can stay safe.” I don’t recommend this, and it’s not just because Halloween is my favorite holiday as a parent. It’s also because the signal for non-participation is shutting off your porch lights. Light is your friend when it comes to deterring crime, so leave it on!
If you choose to open your door, make sure it is for children in disguise, not adults.
I honestly do not even know what the “acceptable” maximum age for trick-or-treating is, but in my neighborhood it seems like high school. I feel more comfortable opening the door to small children who are masked than to masked adults (including high school students). Under no circumstances should anyone open her door to masked adults appearing without children.
Don’t cover your house with so many decorations and sound effects that no one would know if you were in trouble.
If someone did get into your house, would anyone hear your cries for help? Could they see into your house?
When law enforcement is called to a house to check on someone’s welfare, absent evidence of a homeowner’s presence or permission from family members, the police will not force entry into a home to verify. Some indicators police use in making a decision to force entry into a home for a welfare check includes the presence of cars on the property, hearing or seeing someone inside (but no answer at the door), researching the types of prior calls to 911 and frequency/recency, known medical information, chain locks on all doors (from the interior), piled up mail/newspapers, signs of forced entry, open doors, and signs of a struggle or injury.
On every day of the year except one day, many homeowners keep their doors shut to strangers. On Halloween, however, these same homeowners voluntarily open their doors to unidentifiable and unknown people. By using common sense and adhering to a few tips, there’s no reason homeowners can’t continue to participate and enjoy Halloween while ensuring their own safety.
This Retro WON first appeared October 25, 2015.