Children of Riverdale beware, because if the goblins don't get you on Halloween, the police department might. Trick or treat is against the law in this Prince George's County community, where children on the street Wednesday night, costumed or not, will be picked up by police and deposited at home.
"I think it's wrong. Shoot, they should give the younger kids a chance to know what it's like," said 11-year-old Beth Leber, a student at Riverdale Elementary School. "See, when I was a little girl I would dress up like Mickey Mouse. I think it's not fair."
The Riverdale Town Council voted in September to ban trick or treat in hopes of protecting children from the hazards of poisoned candy and razor blades embedded in apples. In lieu of the traditional celebrations, the city will sponsor a party where children turn in a ticket for a bag of treats.
Town officials say theirs is the only community in the Washington area with a law to keep children off the street on Halloween. Nearby Cottage City and Colmar Manor, like other communities, discourage the custom of trick or treat without outright bans.
Cottage City Police Chief Lawrence Donohoe said he will "politely tell trick or treaters to go home," and if necessary, enforce panhandling or loitering laws. Most communities in the county sponsor parties, parades and dances to make up for the lost tradition.
"The parents are just tickled pink because they know they will get their kids back in one piece without X-raying them for razor blades," Donohoe said.
The parents might be tickled, but the children aren't so sure.
"I used to go trick or treating. It was fun," said Nicole Douglas-Jones, 11, a Riverdale Elementary sixth-grader. "But they started putting things in your candy, so I stopped."
"I think we should follow the law," said 8-year-old Tanja Owe, another Riverdale pupil.
Tanja, however, figured a way around the law: she's taking her bunny costume to Silver Spring and hitting the streets with friends there.
Several of her fourth-grade classmates, however, have reservations.
"People might kidnap you and when you call for help, people won't help," said Tamika Queen, 8. "My cousin went trick or treating and she almost got bit by a dog."
What of the tradition? Is not an ancient slice of life being lost?
"Times change," Riverdale Police Chief L.W. Link said. "First and utmost is the safety of our little people. If I did have a twinge, that certainly takes care of it."
"I have mixed feelings," said Riverdale PTA President Diane Nalls. "I regret they can't go and trick or treat because it was so much fun. But I appreciate the town being cautious before something happens."
In the meantime, some county officers doubt both the wisdom and the constitutionality of the law.
"I can understand why they do it, but for a municipality to try and prohibit children from trick or treating, they're getting into First Amendment rights," said Prince George's State's Attorney Arthur (Bud) Marshall.
"I think it's a stupid ordinance," said county attorney Tonia Belton. "What are you going to do, have the police arrest every kid?"