At first, the pranks were annoying but harmless. Kids moved outdoor furniture and trash cans from one porch to another. They flattened car tires by opening the valves.
But in recent years, the pranks have turned what is traditionally called "Moving Night" - the night before Halloween - into something more destructive. Tires have been stabbed with ice picks, school walls covered with graffiti, pumpkins smashed, windows broken, eggs thrown.
It's now called "Mischief Night," and a citizens' group from Towson was out in force last night to make "Mischief Night" a safe night for residents.
"Some of the pranks have gotten a little nasty and destructive," said Karl Pfrommer, a member of the Towson Area Citizens on Patrol. "I can't remember how many years we've been doing this. It's an attempt to keep stuff under control."
More than a dozen patrol members gathered last night at a police community center on Taylor Avenue near Loch Raven Boulevard, where police had blocked off parking spaces with yellow crime scene tape and residents had hung a banner reading, "Crime is not welcome in Towson."
Most of the crime is of the nuisance variety - loud noise from parties at Towson University students' off-campus apartments, vandalism and break-ins. But people in the patrol group are still unnerved by the Oct. 6 rape of a university student on Knollwood Road, even though an arrest has been made.
Still, last night was quiet. Lori Cullinan took her 11-year-old daughter, Erin, out to patrol Loch Raven Village. Erin used the flashlight to peer down dark alleys and yards as her mother slowly drove the white van with a yellow flashing light on the roof. No mischief on her tour: The only problems they encountered were people putting trash cans out without lids.
Matt Parlakian then took me through a group of houses off York Road nearly across from Towson University. Here, he was looking for loud parties and said the primary concern of the neighborhood is transient student housing. As with all such patrols, it's hard to measure success.
"If someone is canvassing the neighborhood to break into someplace and sees a car with a flashing light and goes someplace else, that's a success," Parlakian said. "But it's a hard thing to track."
Still, Baltimore County police took no chances. They even issued a statement last week warning resident about "Moving Night" and urging them to secure trash cans and move outdoor furniture inside.
"It began years ago as a series of pranks, but it is now just another reason for thieves to steal outdoor furniture and anything else that isn't nailed down," the warning stated. "Don't become a statistic, play it safe."