Picture this: you’re a small child, knee-high and excitable, and it’s Oct. 31. Sure, you’ve been dressed up as a pumpkin, but it’s okay, because you know what’s coming next: more candy than you can carry, which will probably last you all the way to Christmas. And then, to your horror, your parents take you to the scariest place you know: the police station.
That’s exactly what hundreds of families are planning to do this Halloween, when the 109th Precinct, based in Flushing on Union Street, will transform its ground floor into a house of horrors for its fourth annual Halloween Open House.
Last year, more than 500 families attended the event, content in the knowledge that their children could not be safer. Kids, meanwhile, scrambled between the decked-out rooms, ransacked the buckets of candy and discovered that, actually, the police aren’t that scary after all.
“The main thing that the Open House allows is for kids to have fun in a safe environment, and to get safe candy,” said Detective Kevin O’Donnell. “But we also want to have a positive interaction with the community — to let people know that the police station isn’t outside of the community, it’s part of the community.”
This isn’t the first community event the precinct has hosted. In August, their “Repack your Backpack” event gave school supplies to children who needed them; at their annual Christmas party, complete with community leaders (including Santa Claus), the same kids were given presents.
“Whenever children can see police officers in a positive light, that’s great for both the community and for individuals,” said child safety expert Erin Whitton. “They have to know that they’re there to help them, not be a hindrance to them.”
Typically, said both Whitton and O’Donnell, small children are afraid of the police.
“Their parents can say things like, ‘Be good, or the police will come and get you,’” said the detective.
Within the precinct’s busy neighborhoods, however, this perception can be dangerous. “Kids sometimes get lost on Main Street,” said O’Donnell, “We want them to be able to approach us — to not hide from us because they’re scared, especially if we’re actually out there looking for them.”
It’s not just small children who are terrified of the police. The 109th Precinct covers downtown and east Flushing, Queensboro Hill, College Point, Malba, Whitestone, Beechhurst and Bay Terrace; a diverse area with a great deal of first-generation immigrants.
Since these members of the community are afraid of their immigration status being exposed, said O’Donnell, they may be far less likely to report crimes to the police, appear as witnesses, or be active members in the community. With events like the precinct’s August’s National Night Out Against Crime — a family-friendly event with the message that members of the community, not criminals, own the streets — adults are also invited to build a positive relationship with the police.
This is beneficial even for American citizens, whose relations with the police (parking tickets, summonses) tend to be negative ones, said O’Donnell. It’s also a good way for immigrants to discover that “no one will accost you, and we’ll never ask [about immigration status],” he added.
The Halloween Open House is organized with the help of the precinct’s community council, with donations of candy from volunteer council members, who deck out the different rooms on their own time.
For those who trick-or-treat elsewhere, Whitton warns of one hidden danger on Halloween: pedestrian vehicular accidents.
With kids weaving between cars in their hurry to reach more houses, she said, twice as many children are killed between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Oct. 31 than any other night of the year.
“Kids don’t understand the dangers that Halloween can present,” Whitton said. “Parents and guardians should sit down with their kids before Halloween, and really talk about these issues.”
Or, they could just take them down to the police station.
The Halloween Open House will take place from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Oct. 31, at 37-05 Union Street, Flushing.