Detroit officials call for Angels’ Night volunteers

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Photographers from around the world flock to Detroit each October, hoping to snap pictures of fires during the three-day period once known as Devil’s Night.

Last year, there were only 52 fires from Oct. 29-31 — a record low for the three-night span — and the photographers went home disappointed, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said Monday.

Duggan said he hoped the photographers will have no reason to return this year.

“I heard from a couple of (the photographers) last year, and they said they aren’t coming back,” Duggan said during a press conference outside the Heilmann Recreational Center on Detroit’s east side. “We’ve all (seen the national media accounts of Devil’s Night fires); it was depressing for the city.”

Tens of thousands of volunteers who patrol the city during the three days every year have changed the narrative, Duggan said. He called for them to sign up again this year.

“Detroiters, both residents and business owners, have demonstrated time and time again their commitment to this city,” the mayor said. “We must once again come together to build on our past success.”

Of the 52 fires during last year’s Angels’ Night period, only 23 were suspicious, according to a city press release. There were 97 fires during 2014 Angels’ Night.

George Preston, president of the Mohican Regent homeowners association on the city’s east side, said volunteers are crucial to continuing the success of Angels’ Night.

“As a resident, all of us want to feel safe, and want a nice, clean neighborhood,” he said. “The police can’t be everywhere, but if we multiply our efforts, we can be in those neighborhoods.

“We’re just going to be the eyes and ears,” Preston said. “We’re not going to engage anyone. Our neighbors will see us out there and it’ll help them feel safer — and the wrongdoers will see us, too.”

Detroit Police Chief James Craig said the city will enact the same emergency curfew for youths that’s been in place for several years during what’s now known as the Angels’ Night period. Minors under 17 must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. from Oct. 29 to Oct. 31.

Anyone violating the curfew will be ticketed, Craig said.

“We don’t want to criminalize our youths,” he said. “Last year, we made no arrests, and only issued 17 violations. Hopefully, we won’t have to issue any this year.”

A second emergency ordinance will prohibit gas stations from dispensing fuel into portable containers from midnight Oct. 27 through 11:59 p.m. Oct. 31. Exemptions will be emergency situations like someone running out of gas or needing to run a generator, although anyone buying fuel must provide identification.

Fire Commissioner Eric Jones said the city normally has 44 fire companies operating daily; during Angels’ Night, there will be 48 companies open.

Jones thanked the first responders and volunteers for their efforts in past years. “Many of these firefighters, medics and police officers have missed Halloween with their families,” he said. “The volunteers have, too.”

During the 1980s and early 1990s, there typically were between 500 and 800 arsons during what was then known as Devil's Night. After fires ravaged the city on Devil's Night in 1994, former Mayor Dennis Archer instituted the Angels’ Night campaign, calling on stepped-up police patrols, setting a curfew and recruiting thousands of volunteers to cruise through neighborhoods, watching for arsonists.

Last year, more than 4,000 volunteers signed up to patrol, while another 7,221 provided other forms of support, such as helping out at deployment centers or turning on their porch lights, city officials said.

Sponsors of the event, who have donated nearly $28,000 so far this year, include McDonald’s, Comerica Bank, Marathon Petroleum, Detroit Renewable Energy and KEO & Associates Inc.

To volunteer, visit www.angelsnight.org or call (313) 224-4415.

GHunter@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2134

Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN