Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

About That Trick-or-Treat Ban for Teens...

Suddenly and without warning, news reports saying Chesapeake fines and jails teenage trick-or-treaters have gone viral.

By Amy Poulter

Suddenly and without warning, news reports saying Chesapeake fines and jails teenage trick-or-treaters have gone viral.

First came the bloggers. Then local news stations across the country picked up the story before the headline made its way to media behemoths like CBS and Buzzfeed on Tuesday.

By Wednesday morning, stories were popping up all over the internet and air waves.

Most go like this: A city ordinance says that any kid over the age of 12 caught on the streets collecting candy from neighbors on Halloween could face fines and up to six months in jail.

The ordinance is real. But Heath Covey, the city's director of public communications, said it was established decades ago. And since its creation, not a single teen has been arrested for partaking in the tradition.

"If a 13-year-old kid is out trick-or-treating with their younger sibling, they're not going to have any issues," Covey said. "But say that 13-year-old goes out and decides to smash pumpkins in the streets and cause come mischief -- yeah, we would have to deal with that."

Across Hampton Roads, nearly every city has a similar rule. In Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Portsmouth, teens over 13 are also banned from going door-to-door.

A Pilot story from 2015 said the ordinances were created after a Halloween gone wrong in 1967. A kid threw a firecracker into another's treat bag and a 14-year-old boy was stabbed in the chest near Portsmouth's Robert E. Lee Elementary School after stealing a bag of candy from another boy.

Despite the ordinances being established more than 40 years ago, the news stories on Tuesday caused an uproar. Phones rang off the hook in Chesapeake city offices with people from all over the country wanting to know why officials would do such a thing.

Chesapeake Mayor Rick West said the stories seemed to take a life of their own. So much so, he thought they were satirical at first. West reiterated that no teenager has ever been arrested for trick-or-treating, and said his children participated after they turned 13 themselves.

As for the ordinance, jail is probably too strong of a punishment, he said. But a provision should remain in place in the event that anything should happen.

"It's more a matter of the safety of younger children," West said.

Rachael Snead, a Chesapeake resident with three children, said the ordinance is too restrictive. Allowing teens to participate "keeps kids occupied without getting them into too much trouble," she said.

Chesapeake resident Brenda Davis has four grandchildren, and she thinks the ordinance is a good one. Three of her grandchildren are under the age of 12 and will hit the streets come Halloween.

But her grandson turned 13 earlier this year, and Davis said he won't be trick-or-treating with his siblings.

"Teenagers and young adults should be doing age appropriate things," she said, "not trick-or-treating with young children."

Some took to Facebook, posting comments on the city's page.

"Can someone please explain your trick or treat law?" a woman from Texas wrote underneath a post about an upcoming fall-themed event. "Please explain this. I can't come up with a reason in my own brain where this makes sense."

A few people made their way to West's Facebook page, seemingly shaming him for the "Scrooge-like" ordinance.

"With so much negativity in the world, let the kids be kids for as long as possible," a Michigan woman wrote.

The ordinance remains, Covey said, but as long as your teen isn't out causing any mischief, they'll be just fine.

Then what's with the uproar?

"We haven't advertised the ordinance or made any posts about it anywhere," Covey said. "I have no idea."

(c)2018 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
Special Projects