Delicious or Dangerous?: Trick or Treating Safety

Murray, KY – Ghosts and goblins may be the images of Halloween, but Kit-Kats and Candy Corn are the taste. Tradition dictates that during the spookiest night of the year children venture door to door filling their pails with sugary treats. But in a world some believe is becoming more and more dangerous, is trick or treating too risky? Angela Hatton delves into the topic of trick or treating safety.

Tommy McClure waits to pick up his five year old grandson from Murray Elementary School. This year, he's taking two of his grandchildren trick or treating. He remembers Halloween years ago, too, when his own children were small.

" But you didn't have to worry as much about the kids then as you do now.' Why's that?' Crazies out there.'"

Christina Lupinski takes her children to a fall festival at church every year instead of going trick or treating. She grew up in south Florida.

"Even as a kid, hearing that people took their candy to the hospital to be X-rayed . . .when we were kids! Y'know, because people put stuff in the candy and that kind of thing. And things have not gotten better. If anything they've gotten worse. People have gotten a little more maniacal with what they do and so I just, y'know, I do worry about that"

Pins and razor blades in candy bars and poison-spiked cookies are some of the real-life Halloween horror stories that circulate at this time of year. But according to the myth-busting website, very few of those stories are true. Murray State University Assistant Professor of Psychology Ian Norris says there are biological reasons to why humans remember disturbing urban legends.

"There's a little structure in the brain called the amigdala that gets in on the action whenever memories have an emotional component to them. And when that structure gets active, we remember things all the more vividly. When we do remember them they come flooding back with emotion and when those things come flooding back with emotion, they're even more likely to influence our judgment."

Norris says that negative emotions create the strongest memories because humans have adapted to avoid situations that could be harmful. Remembering danger keeps us away from danger. He says that's especially true when you consider a parent's desire to protect his or her child. Norris says the trick or treating fears could also have a sociological cause.

"More than ever neighborhoods tend to be transient that's kind of a global phenomenon as people tend to follow jobs around the country. So people are these days less likely to know who their neighbors are. And when that's the case, we're going to be a little bit more wary."

To answer the question of real instances of Halloween crime, a police officer is the person to turn to. Kentucky State Police Trooper Stu Recke is spokesman for his western Kentucky district. Recke says when he joined the force about sixteen years ago, Halloween was one of the busier nights for officers. The calls were usually criminal mischief, smashed jack-o-lanterns and eggs thrown at homes or passing cars.

"And over the past several years, it seems to have slowed down quite a bit, where you still get some of those calls, but not in the magnitude or the volume that we did before."

Recke isn't aware of any crimes involving Halloween candy, but he won't give ground on the need for vigilance.

"You do need to made the necessary precautions, such as homemade treats; KSP advises don't take any homemade treats. Throw those out. Also for children, make sure a responsible adult, whether it be a parent or a guardian, inspects the candy before they consume it, and that way they can make sure it's safe to eat."

Father and Murray City Commissioner Jeremy Bell plans to do just that this Halloween.

"We keep a good eye on what they bring in. We throw it all out on the floor and look through it beforehand."

Bell says his family lives in a pretty safe subdivision. The streets are lit and they know most of their neighbors. He isn't afraid to take his children trick or treating. In fact, he says, it's going to be fun.