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Towson citizens patrol on lookout for pranksters night before Halloween

TACOP President Mike Calwell of Yorkleigh, said the organization promotes its Mischief Night patrols as early as June, during TACOP’s annual Rally Against Crime. Calwell is seen here speaking during the June rally.
TACOP President Mike Calwell of Yorkleigh, said the organization promotes its Mischief Night patrols as early as June, during TACOP’s annual Rally Against Crime. Calwell is seen here speaking during the June rally. (File photo)

Thinking about making mischief on the night before Halloween? Think again, because the Towson Area Citizens on Patrol will be looking for you.

TACOP, an umbrella group for Citizens on Patrol groups in 25 Towson-area neighborhoods, will have representatives from each neighborhood and downtown participating in Mischief Prevention Patrols on Oct. 30, aka Mischief Night. Many will be riding in cars with flashing yellow lights and magnetized COP signs, all looking for youths smashing pumpkins, throwing eggs at cars and wrapping cars in toilet paper.

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The mischief and the patrols are both annual rites, although TACOP officials and police say the number of incidents has decreased dramatically in recent years because of patrolling volunteers who actas deterrents.

"We must be doing something right," said TACOP member Janet Eveleth, who handles public relations for the group.

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"I think it's because (youths) see these cars with lights on and signs," said TACOP member Janet Eveleth. "They know they're being watched."

"It's been very effective," said Officer Kristy Fuka, a community outreach police officer in the Towson precinct, who will be manning the phones if patrollers call in suspicious activities on their cellphones. "That's why (incidents have) decreased, because they know TACOP will be out."

TACOP members say the culprits are mostly of middle- to high-school aged youths.

"They become pranksters," said TACOP Vice President Pat France. "They wrap your car in toilet paper, soap your windows, throw eggs at cars and houses. It's a pain in the neck."

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At least one of those pranks is potentially destructive. Raw eggs can destroy the paint on cars if not cleaned off right away, and "you're in for a paint job," France said.

France said the Mischief Night patrols started in 2000 at the height of the Halloween prankishness.

"It was pretty bad," she remembered. Rodgers Forge, Wiltondale and Stoneleigh were among the communities hit hardest, she said.

Over the years, "as we patrolled communities and made it known, it slowed down to almost nothing," said France, of the Knollwood Donnybrook neighborhood. "But we don't want to stop, because it will start up again."

The patrolling has become more sophisticated and varied over time. Stoneleigh's Citizens Patrol is part of TACOP, but also includes its own bicycle patrol, France said. She also said TACOP has reached out to area grocery stores and supermarkets, which know to call if a youth buys dozens of eggs.

Part of getting the message out is publicity, France said. She said often, TV reporters will ride along, "and put it on the 11 p.m. news," she said. The event also draws Baltimore County officials. France said participants are expected to include Capt. Jay Landsman, captain of the Towson police precinct, and County Councilman David Marks.

Eveleth attributes TACOP's success in part to the stability of its neighbors and representation.

"The same volunteers patrol every year," she said. "They stay in their neighborhoods."

TACOP President Mike Calwell said the organization promotes its Mischief Night patrols as early as June, during TACOP's annual Rally Against Crime.

Calwell exemplifies the passion of TACOP members. He lives in Yorkleigh, a community of three streets that doesn't have its own COP.

"It's myself and a couple of neighbors," he said.

Volunteers are welcome to join Mischief Prevention Patrols, where patrollers will be at 6 p.m., at the Baltimore County Police Hillendale Resource Center at 1055 Taylor Avenue. Attendees are asked to bring hats, gloves and scarves to donate to area homeless shelters and the Family Crisis Center of Baltimore County. Patrols start at 7 p.m., and run through midnight.

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