The legalities of clowning

When dressing up as a clown becomes illegal

What’s become referred to as “clowning” is a hot topic on social media and around the country. It sounds funny and typical this time of year to dress up and scare people, but police say this trend takes it too far.

We’re not talking about doing the normal Halloween thing: trick-or-treating or going to a party with friends. These are cases of people dressing as clowns, often at night and sometimes holding weapons, intending to scare whoever sees them.

There are reports of this in more than a dozen states across the country.

“There's been a lot of attention on clown sightings and such,” said Eastlake Police Chief Larry Reik. “They think, ‘Hey, maybe this would be funny.’”

Eastlake Police dealt with it over the weekend. Clown threats on Instagram specifically named Eastlake Middle School as a place for an upcoming attack. According to global intelligence company, Stratfor, it’s similar to a bomb threat at a school. Authorities may suspect it to be false, but still have to take the necessary precautions.

"These kinds of threats in our day and age need to be taken seriously in light of school shootings that have occurred, until proven otherwise," said Stratfor’s Fred Burton.

The Eastlake threats turned out to be from three 6th grade girls. Police tell us they’ll likely face the city’s diversion program. But others “clowners” could get a harsher penalty.

Chief Reik says charges could include inducing panic, aggravated menacing and trespassing. All three are misdemeanors, but they can be elevated to felonies in some cases.

“[They] create a lot of alarm and use valuable resources which could be used better somewhere else,” Chief Reik told us.

Even just a misdemeanor could get you a possible fine or jail time.

Chief Reik says each case is different. Whether you’re actually arrested could depend on your intent, what’s implied, the time of day and what’s said or transmitted through the internet or social media.

Police say, if there are clown sightings in your community you should take a photo, get a description of the person or vehicle, note which way they travel and call 911.


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