This weekend marks the start of Detroit’s three-day Angels’ Night campaign, a period when thousands of volunteers typically patrol the city to prevent arsons.
But with the number of fires way down from the 1980s and early 1990s – when the evening before Halloween was known as Devil’s Night – some community members are questioning whether the campaign is needed anymore.
Bishop Edgar Vann, a member of the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners and pastor of Second Ebenezer Church, said the event shouldn’t be held every year if Devil’s Night is no longer a threat.
“You can raise a red flag when it’s not needed,” Vann said at the board’s Oct. 19 meeting. “At some point or another, we can’t do this every year for the rest of our lives. That doesn’t make sense.”
Last year, Detroit experienced 59 fires during the three-day Angels’ Night volunteer campaign, roughly half the number of fires in 2014. In a typical 24-hour period, firefighters respond to an average of eight structure fires.
Because of the city’s success in curbing the number of Angels’ Night fires, Deputy Chief Todd Bettison said the approach this year has been more focused on celebration than prevention.
“Last year, on Halloween, we had (trunk-or-treat) and this year, we’ve even relaxed the curfew on Halloween to normal hours,” Bettison said at the Oct. 19 meeting. “The number of fires we have on these three nights are lower than on a normal night. We are morphing into a celebration.”
The festivities will work in tandem with more than 6,000 volunteers still committed to Angels’ Night patrols.
Barb Matney, president of the South Warrendale Radio Patrol, said the volunteers serve the police, who can’t be everywhere at once.
“Better to have us out there and not need us, than not have us there and need us,” said Matney. “I think it’s foolish to stop the event. It gives us an opportunity to connect and celebrate with our district.”
Matney said after five years of patrolling, the streets couldn’t be quieter.
“You’d be very surprised how many block clubs work together to host events where all the treats are in one space for the kids,” Matney said. “Last year, we didn’t have any fires in our area at all and kids are abiding by the curfew.”
But from the 1970s through the 1990s, the night took a darker turn in Detroit, as Oct. 30 became more known for vandalism and arson. During the 1980s and early 1990s, the city saw between 500 and 800 Devil’s Night arsons.
After fires ravaged the city on Devil’s Night in 1994, then-mayor Dennis Archer launched the Angels’ Night campaign, calling on stepped-up police patrols, setting a curfew and recruiting thousands of volunteers.
“The mayor has said before he believes there will come a time when patrols are no longer necessary,” said John Roach, a spokesman for Mayor Mike Duggan. “This year, we are putting more emphasis on providing family-friendly Angel’s Night and Halloween activities.”
Trunk-or-treat events are planned for each of the city’s 11 police precincts and three fire stations on Halloween. There also will be a haunted park at Varier Park, 15639 Thatcher, near West Outer Drive and West McNichols Road, and a Halloween Extravaganza at Rouge Park’s Brennan Pool.
There will be a curfew in effect for all residents under the age of 17 from 6 p.m. Oct. 29 to 6 a.m. on Oct. 30 and from 6 p.m. Oct. 30 to 6 a.m. Oct. 31. Minors who violate curfew will be ticketed and held until parents or guardians can pick them up. Parents and guardians may also be ticketed.
An ordinance restricts adults 18 and older from dispensing gasoline into portable containers between midnight Oct. 27 and 11:59 p.m. on Oct. 31. except for emergencies.
“This year, we plan to start on Friday because we suspect more activity over the weekend, but hopefully not,” Matney said.
To volunteer for Angels' Night, call (313) 224-4415 or log on to angelsnight.org.
Charles E. Ramirez contributed.