Salem's Prop Weapons Ban for Costume Holiday

The unofficial capital of Halloween, Salem, Mass., implements a prop weapons ban and other increased security elements following the Las Vegas shooting.

SALEM, MASS. -- Haunted Happenings is an annual, month-long series of events where costumes are highly encouraged, held in Salem, a town that made history for witch trials that led to the execution of 19 community members in 1692. After the Las Vegas shootings in 2017, the city of Salem upped its security, crowd management and traffic plans for the big final weekend before Halloween 2017, including implementing a controversial prop weapons ban.

With more than 100,000 were expected to enter the small town, the city announced the prop weapons ban a week prior to the popular final weekend. They also added barricades with bag checks and a cache of law enforcement support from the Massachusetts State Police, local police from other municipalities in Essex County and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other federal agencies.

There were unpublished rumors of threats to the Salem crowds at the outset of the weekend, which Witch City police were taking seriously, according to anonymous sources. But it helped ease the minds -- somewhat -- of those in the know that the city had already banned anything that looks like a weapon and had taken many other precautions to boost security. The 2017 Haunted Happenings drew the largest attendance in the city's history, but there were few incidents reported, according to Salem News.

Prop Weapons Ban

The costumed Zombie killers and paratroopers, and even toddlers dressed as cops, were a little lighter on the accessories than die-hard Halloween revelers of years passed.

No baseball bats, samurai swords, knives, guns or other weapons, according to the local CBS affiliate.

Anything that looks real or threatening, we're going to hold onto it for the night," said Salem Police Capt. Conrad Prosniewski. "We're not going to deprive people. They can pick it up at the station after Halloween."
One comment on Facebook said, "Apparently pansies are in full bloom year round in Massachusetts," while others spoke about how such a policy would doom Halloween or how they didn't think Massachusetts laws restricting the carrying of dangerous weapons applied to a local prop weapons ban.

Others commented their understanding of the decision.

Police Establish & Divide Command Into 5 Sectors

The Salem Police Department divided downtown Salem into five sectors, each with its own command structure and assigned officers, according to The Salem News.

The city announced that more than 200 law enforcement officers in uniform would be visibly stationed in key areas, including the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority commuter rail stop, where they were checking bags as visitors stepped off the train.

Countless more plain clothes officers were planted throughout the crowds "keeping an eye on things and monitoring the situation,” said Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll.

The department also established a text-a-tip line, "SalemTip" to 67283 which went live last Friday at 4 p.m. and will be online until 1 a.m. on November 1st. The city has encouraged locals, "if you see something, say something."

While it was the biggest Saturday-before-Halloween the city has ever experienced, Prosniewski reported at the close of Sunday evening that the crowds were generally well-behaved. The city does not go back to business as usual until the last visitors leave town Halloween night.

In years past, mounted police escort the crowds from downtown, passed City Hall, to the train station as the clock strikes twelve on Halloween night. Locals generally love Haunted Happenings or grin and bear it, especially the notorious traffic.

City Prepares to Direct Visitors & Traffic

For the first time, the city tested free shuttle buses from Salem High School and Salem State University to the downtown area. Up to 2,000 per day used the shuttles, according to Driscoll.

They also directed traffic away from the public parking garages closest to Salem Square when they were full to ease traffic congestion with the tremendous amount of pedestrians expected.

The city, also for the first time, limited visitor access to the famous Charter Street Burial Ground to 100 at a time. The burial ground contains historic graves, including Magistrate John Hathorne the chief interrogator of the famous witch trials and ancestor of author Nathaniel Hawthorne who wrote The Scarlet Letter, as well as the 300-year anniversary memorial to the witch trials. The reflection area at the memorial is an important resource to the Salem community for speaking engagements and public discussions about topics like social justice.

More than 3,000 reportedly waited patiently for their turn to view the burial ground over the big weekend.

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