Police, costume shop owner urges people to use common sense this Halloween

Masks and fake weapons carry real responsibility

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -

Creepy clown pranks, killer clown movies, and accused killers wearing clown costumes: Americans are not in short supply of clown chaos. 

However, not all disguises are used for acts of pure evil.

Dressed in a beard reminiscent of Santa Claus, Amazing Mr. A. (as he is affectionately known in the West Palm Beach community) is in the business of just that: disguises. 

His year round costume shop in West Palm Beach is busiest during scare season.

"We have got Frankenstein, which is cool, but you have got to have the right attitude for that," said Mr. A, with a chuckle, drawing attention to different masks.

Out come the masks, and the fake weapons when customers come to browse his closet-like costume shop. But since fake weapons could cause real terror, Mr. A finds himself offering party goers something they cannot rent. 

"Common sense," he said. "You don't walk into a party or a bar that is in the public eye, and bring out this giant sword…It is the same thing with masks. It is actually illegal to wear a mask in public."

In Florida, wearing a mask in public could get you up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

"It a case by case basis, and it is the officer's discretion," Officer Seth Buxton with the West Palm Beach Police Dept. "If there is a husband and wife, and they are going to a Halloween party at a neighbor's house or restaurant, it is the officer's discretion. They might not get stopped."

Halloween is one of the exceptions to Florida's anti-mask law, but costume-themed events outside of October 31st, like Moon, are not exempt. 

While West Palm Beach police made no mask related arrests during Moonfest last year, they still caution residents to use some common sense.

"Walking around or running around and scaring people could be dangerous to yourself and well as to the general public," Buxton told Contact 5 Investigator Merris Badcock.

In the last ten years, only 16 people in Palm Beach County have been charged with the crime. Local attorney Scott Holtz says the charged does not always hold up in court.

"It's pretty unlikely," said Holtz. "Generally speaking, [the charge] really would have to be married with some other behavior."

Other behaviors included charges like robbery or disturbing the peace, since wearing a mask in public could also get you enhanced penalties. 

In the case of Sheila Keen Warren, an accused killer who allegedly painted her face like a clown and killed a Wellington woman, Holtz says costume makeup is up for interpretation.

"That heavy, thick, pancake makeup…to the point that you would not be recognizable as yourself, then sure, I think that could fall under the category of wearing a mask," said Holtz.

Mask or makeup, choosing your costumes comes down to one thing: common sense.

"People should always be on high alert. They should always look after themselves and others around them, and make common sense choices," said Mr. A.

Because if common sense was a costume, Mr. A would rent it by the thousands. 

Tips for a safe Halloween: 

  1. Make sure fake guns have orange tips so police know they are toys. Be prepared for fake weapons to be inspected by police.
  2. Parents should consider trick-or-treating during daylight hours, and putting reflective clothing on children's costumes.
  3. Consuming alcohol at a Halloween party? Find a sober driver, or call a cab service to drive you home.
  4. Do not approach homes with porch lights turned off. 
  5. While wearing a mask is not illegal during Halloween, officials encourage residents to pick masks with large eyeholes.
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