In Chesapeake, Virginia, trick or treating is all about Halloween fun: candy, costumes, and — if you’re over 14 — a spine-chilling possible $250 fine.
According to the City of Chesapeake code of ordinances, anyone over the age of 14 who engages in trick or treating is guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $250. Anyone who trick or treats after 8 p.m. is also guilty of the same charge.
While many might think this law is a pretty cruel trick, the ban on big kids is nothing new for Chesapeake. In fact, the penalty was only reduced in March 2019 when city officials loosened the original 1970 ordinance that said kids over 12 years old who were trick or treating could face jail time.
“All cities in the Hampton Roads region, which Chesapeake is a part of, passed an ordinance that said if you were older than 12, you can be subject to an arrest, a fine, and/or jail time,” Chesapeake spokesperson Heath Covey told CNN.
The ordinance was introduced after an especially violent Halloween in 1968 where a city in the Hampton Roads region witnessed several incidents, including people throwing firecrackers into trick or treaters’ Halloween bags.
The law was altered in March after Chesapeake’s ordinance went viral. Thousands of Halloween fans from all over the world caught wind of Chesapeake’s trick-or-treating ban and they weren’t happy. Even Jimmy Kimmel mocked the town’s law.
According to Covey, the backlash prompted officials to revisit the existing law and raise the maximum age to 14 while dropping the jail provision altogether.
While the ordinance seems to speak for itself, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
Nobody gets arrested
In the past 49 years, since the original ordinance was put in place, Chesapeake has not arrested, fined, or jailed a single person for trick or treating.
“Anyone over 14 who trick or treats in Chesapeake will not receive anything but candy,” Covey said, as long as they’re not causing trouble.
According to Covey, the law’s single purpose is to give police the ability to take action if someone were to do “something malicious”, such as smashing pumpkins on the streets.
Police do not patrol neighborhoods or “card people” to confirm their ages. On Halloween, Chesapeake law enforcement focus on ensuring no one is speeding through the streets and doing what they can to protect wandering trick or treaters.
“Say for example a 17-year-old kid and his 12-year-old sister both go trick or treating,” said Covey. “The only problem that 17-year-old is going to have is deciding who’s going to get to keep the Snickers.”
For now, the City of Chesapeake is working on tracking down posts and stories that incorrectly explain the ordinance. So far, Covey says, when people hear the story and understand the ordinance is meant to “keep people safe,” the response has been positive.
“We want every person in Chesapeake to have a fun and safe Halloween. This ordinance will not prevent them from doing that.”