Alan Schwartz

Model Citizen Alan Schwartz

John: I am here with Alan Schwartz who is a Model Citizen from the September issue and is now a contributing columnist for Model Citizen Magazine. How are you, my friend?

Alan: I’m good, how are you John?

John: I’m great, thank you. So today I’d like to ask you about Halloween. This year I think everybody knows that Halloween is going to be much different than ever before. I think also that there are some things that our readers and your fans should know about Halloween to do with some legalities. Would you share with our audience please what they should be doing or not doing?

Alan: As you are aware, I’m a long-time criminal defense attorney as well as a Village Judge and, as such, we spend a lot of time dealing with criminal offenses and quasi-criminal offenses. We are continuing to be concerned about the uptick of inappropriate behavior in the community. This could be partially fueled by the pandemic, and partially by the fact that people, in general, at this point, just seem to be very angry, whether it’s about the election results, Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, or a variety of different things like the protests and so forth. What really concerns us is that people are getting even angrier when they can’t do the things they always look forward to doing. As an example, our domestic violence practice is going through the roof, because a lot of people seem to have discovered that, as much as they love their spouses and children, they can’t stand being locked up in the house with them for lengthy periods of time.

I think this is going to be a big issue come Halloween when the kids really can’t safely go trick-or-treating. It would be nice to think that may change since Halloween is still a few weeks away, but I don’t think so, certainly not to the point where it’s going to be safe to have children going door to door, touching things and not wearing appropriate masks, just decorative masks. We are particularly concerned about young people, not so much the small children, but the teenagers who, shall we say, like to be mischievous, to begin with, and get themselves into trouble. I think it is a good idea for us to go over some of the conduct that could put these kids in a situation where they would need a criminal defense attorney, such as myself. Perhaps by being educated, they will be smart, make good decisions, and not do some of the things that may get them into trouble with the law. As you know, our mantra is that we represent good kids, from good families, who do something stupid. Unfortunately, we expect to see a lot of this come Halloween this year

John: People seem to be bored and maybe even going a little stir crazy. An excuse to get out and let off some steam is something I think a lot of teens are going to be looking for, like you said, but it could lead to some bad things happening.

Alan: Absolutely, John.  We both know the things you and I got away with, when we were kids. Even in those rare instances where the police got involved, the worse that would happen absent something really serious, is that they would take you home and tell your parents what you did.

John: Oh, for sure we used to toilet paper houses, we threw eggs at our rivals.

Alan: And then there were the kids who would go out on scavenger hunts, like collecting street signs and compete to see who could collect the most?

John: There were all kinds of crazy things going on.

Alan: If kids did those things today, they would find themselves charged with petty larceny or even grand larceny.

John: Back then, if you egged somebody’s house and you got caught. you had to go back and clean it or fix it. You had to wash it down with a hose and pick everything up. These days it seems that there has been an uptick in what people are willing to do to blow off steam. They think it’s okay, but in the end, you hear about them getting arrested.

Alan: Absolutely, John.

John: So, what do you suggest for teenage kids? What should parents do to try to moderate all this?

Alan: I think this year people may not want the kids ringing their doorbells or even standing on their doorsteps. I know years ago they said the best thing you could do is take the kids to the mall and let them roam around with adult supervision, so they weren’t going house-to-house. That may not work this year either, because most people are concerned about going into malls. Hopefully, by the end of October, most of the malls will have much better air filtration systems, so that may be one solution.  Another possibility is supervised home gatherings, where the parents can set the rules, and enforce them for everyone’s safety. 

But let’s talk about some of the trouble that the older kids can get themselves into, which can result in the involvement of law enforcement, like criminal mischief, assault when they get into fights with each other, menacing for threatening other people, harassment or disorderly conduct. Hopefully no one starts a fire, and ends up getting charged with arson. Another concern is trespassing on other people’s property or, even forcibly taking something from somebody else, in which case we are dealing with robbery.

I remember the mischief we knew as kids, when someone thought it would be funny to remove decorative statues from someone’s lawn, move them someplace else. Today, it doesn’t take much to go from petty larceny to grand larceny, especially with things being as expensive as they are. 

I think it’s really going to be critical that whether the kids are young or teenagers, parents are going to have to sit down and have a talk with their children, and explain that this may be the year that conduct like this is not going to be tolerated, because a lot of people are operating are already anxious and angry, with hair-trigger tempers. We’ve seen this in our criminal practice, and even in our residential real estate practice, where people are routine negotiation is becoming difficult everyone is so short on patience.

John: People do have a short fuse these days. They might have let some kids get away with something in years past, but now there is a mindset of wanting everyone to stay off the property. But kids will come on anyway and ring the doorbell twenty times, then maybe even harass you because you didn’t put a bag of candy out or something.

Alan: Very true, John.

John: How do you suggest a parent handle all this with their teenager or college age kids?

Alan: As I said, I think sitting down and having a heart-to-heart with them, especially with the older kids, about what’s going to be acceptable or not. It would be a wonderful thing if the malls would do something so the younger kids could be walking around in a controlled environment, assuming the parents are comfortable going inside to begin with.  They’re going to have to deal with kids in costumes who want to wear decorative masks that won’t work well with the masks we’ve all learned to use on a regular basis during the pandemic. It’s going to take a lot of supervision and explanation for the kids to realize and understand what’s going on. As you said earlier, this may be the Halloween that wasn’t.

John: I don’t think malls are going to let kids in to trick or treat, I really don’t, even a month from now. I also think that you’re going to see a lot of people who typically celebrate Halloween and put out candy in neighborhoods, just keeping their door closed because they’re afraid of getting COVID. What do you do if you are a homeowner and you are concerned about the children in the neighborhood coming for trick or treating, and you really don’t want to expose yourself? How do you let those children or teenagers know that this is not the year to come to my house?

Alan: One solution some people have tried is to put candy outside with some sort of a sign that says, “only take one and save the rest for everyone else”. This way, people don’t have to open their doors and be confronted over and over again. 

We’ve tried that personally in my house, but the problem has been that when some of the older kids come without their parents, they don’t just take one, but instead they take whatever is left in the bowl. We generally put out what we anticipate is an appropriate amount for the kids in the neighborhood, and if the kids go through it too quickly, then it’s time to turn off the lights call it a day. 

John: That’s funny. It’s like hiding. 

Alan: Of course, there’s a risk that you’re going to end up with vandalism at the hands of disgruntled trick-or-treaters, but today, everyone should be aware that many homes have surveillance equipment and security cameras, in many cases in something as simple as a doorbell, not to mention all of the people out there with their cell phones recording everything. Kids who are doing things that they may have gotten away with years past may now find themselves being filmed, with the results turned over to local law enforcement, and all of the unpleasantness that could follow.

John: I think kids these days have these satchels of eggs with them and, if there’s no candy at the door, suddenly you have eggs on your windows.

Alan: Well, throwing eggs at houses or cards can create real damage, which could lead to real problems with the local police departments. Again, with everything else going on today, people have short tempers and everyone is on edge, there’s no easy solution.

John: Would you let your young kids go out trick or treating this year? I’m thinking you can get COVID from a candy wrapper, so there’s a risk. 

Alan: Personally I would not, but fortunately my son is way beyond that time of his life. With the very real risk of infection, I don’t think that the benefit of the fun that the kids will have this year offsets that risk. I think about it from an adult point of view, if I’ve learned nothing else from COVID, I’ve learned to be extremely tolerant of other people’s comfort levels. My friends range from those who still haven’t left the house to those who returned to indoor dining at restaurants, as soon as they were permitted to open their doors again. 

As you know, John, my wife and I often eat out seven nights a week, so this really hit our lifestyle hard. While we’re still going out regularly, we have still yet to return to indoor dining, and strictly stick to outdoors. Our philosophy is that the problem with indoor dining is that even with appropriate social distancing, that you are breathing recirculated air. Of course, some restaurants have started installing very sophisticated air filtration systems, and the weather is getting cold so, even with outdoor heaters,  things may have to change. 

I would say that with children, it’s not worth the risk for them to be around all these other children or adults to trick-or-treat as though it’s business as usual.  These risks are simply too high, and I just don’t think that trick-or-treating is that important that it’s necessary.

John: How about the teenagers and college students who want to go to these costume parties?

Alan: It’s the same problem, John, and probably even worse.  Just today, Plainview and Northport High Schools both had to shut down. The biggest problem we’re seeing now with COVID is with students in high school and, even more so, on the college level. The kids go back to school, they are not careful and then the school shuts down. While studies show that our brains don’t fully mature until the age of twenty-five or so, and I don’t think kids are intentionally acting recklessly, many feel they are invulnerable and end up suffering the consequences. 

John: I don’t think they are either. 

Alan: When we were teenagers, we didn’t think about our mortality. The bottom-line was we really felt as though we would live forever, and there really wasn’t a risk.

John: But in this day and age, it’s the difference between life and death.

Alan: Correct.

John: I want to thank you very much for sharing your wisdom on the do’s and don’ts for the community and clueing us in on what we have to be careful of and watch for this Halloween. I know a lot of parents are readers and are your fans so of course, we’ll take that information to heart. 

Alan: So, now do you want that funny Halloween story?

John: Absolutely.

Alan: Some years ago, my wife and I were invited to a very upscale Halloween party with a bunch of lawyers, judges, and people we work with professionally on a regular basis, at a mansion on the North Shore. I’m not really a costume type of person, so I decided if I had to go, I was going to be comfortable. Riva and I are active motorcyclists, but most of these people were unaware of this and had never seen us in full Harley regalia.  So, we put on our best leathers, doo wraps and motorcycle shirts and boots and walked through the door, ready to ride. People were just floored, and several were left speechless, When we were complimented on how realistic our “costumes” looked, our response was a simple, “costume”?

John: Very funny. I saw those photos, it was great.

Alan: We had a great time with it, and we were comfortable all night to boot.

John: Thank you very much for that story.

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