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Video: Town: Trick-or-treaters over 12 to be fined

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    MATT LAUER, co-host: On a much different note, children all across the country will dress up and head out in search of candy on Sunday night. But how old is too old for trick or treating ? Some towns are now drawing a line. NBC 's Peter Alexander is in Belleville , Illinois , with details on that. Peter , good morning to you.

    PETER ALEXANDER reporting: Matt , good morning to you. Of course, trick or treating is intended for little kids, but increasingly it's become an excuse for some big kids to go out in search of candy, and here in Belleville the concern started several years ago when some adults became frightened by some of those big kids knocking on their door late at night with masks on. So again, this Halloween they're cracking down.

    Group of children: Trick or treat !

    ALEXANDER: Halloween usually means a good bit of harmless fun, but answering a knock at night can open the door to real fears when instead of a little goblin, there's a grown ghost asking for a treat.

    Mayor MARK ECKERT (Mayor of Belleville, Illinois): Many said, 'When are you going to do something about stopping the real big six foot tall trick or treaters from coming to our doors late at night?'

    ALEXANDER: To address the problem of intimidating teens like a number of other towns across the country, Belleville , Illinois , has put an age limit on trick or treaters banning anyone older than 12 from going door-to-door.

    Unidentified Boy #1: I kind of feel sad that we're not allowed to go, but I'll stay home with my mom and dad passing out candy.

    ALEXANDER: While the law is clear, like a bag of Halloween treats the reaction is mixed.

    Unidentified Woman: I think if they're in their own neighborhood, and I -- if I know the children, then I don't have a problem with that.

    Unidentified Man #1: I think when they start getting into the older teen years they gets a little bit more mischievous and causes problems for the younger kids.

    Unidentified Boy #2: You know, I think it's pretty kind of lame because I like candy so, you know, I want to go trick or treating but I can understand why they don't want people over 13 trick or treating .

    ALEXANDER: The ordinance was passed in 2008 . So far, Belleville police say they've yet to issue a single citation that could cost as much as $1,000. Belleville 's mayor's convinced the law is working.

    Mayor ECKERT: We haven't written a ticket in two years. We're not out to write any tickets this year. We're looking for compliance, which we have gotten, and we're looking for a safe experience on our streets for Halloween night.

    Unidentified Man #2: It's just a -- I guess it's just a change in society, you know. We've just gotten to be to a point where there has to be a law like this.

    ALEXANDER: The ban means the big kids in Belleville will have to go somewhere other than their neighbor's doorstep for that Halloween treat.

    Boy #2: I guess I'll just have to go to the grocery store and buy my own candy.

    ALEXANDER: Grocery stores will be open, plenty of candy to go around here. They also, to be fair, are having a big Halloween street party . But, Matt , all this comes as news to me. I'd already bought my costume for this Halloween . I was planning to go as Lady Gaga . Now what am I supposed to do with these steaks? Try writing that off on your expense report.

    LAUER: Have a -- have a party, Peter , no matter what. Good to see you. Thanks very much. Peter Alexander out in Illinois this morning. It's now 18 after the hour. Here's Meredith.

updated 10/25/2010 12:02:53 PM ET 2010-10-25T16:02:53

Teenagers who trick-or-treat in some cities could face something more threatening than any costumed zombie or ghost — like the long arm of the law.

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Some cities across the country have adopted age limits — usually around 12 — for those who can travel door-to-door for candy and other Halloween fare. But while teen violators could face jail or fines up to $100, such laws are rarely strictly enforced.

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Take Mayor Mark Eckert of Belleville, Ill., near St. Louis. He led a push in 2008 to ban trick or treating by high school-aged teens in that community of about 35,000 people.

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His reasoning? He said he heard from too many single mothers and senior citizens complaining they were frightened by "6-foot-tall kids" showing up at their homes in search of candy.

"When I was a kid my father said to me, 'You're too damn big to be going trick-or-treating. You're done," Eckert said. "When that doesn't happen, then that's reason for the city governments to intervene."

Some Belleville residents have complained about the ordinance, he said. But he added that he hears more often from those thankful for the age limit. The ordinance also prohibits those over 12 years old from wearing masks in public any other day of the year.

In Virginia, several cities have had trick-or-treating age limits on the books since the 1970s. City officials from Meridian, Miss., to Bishopville, S.C., and Boonsboro, Md., have cut off the trick-or-treat age at 12.

Still, officials cannot recall anyone ever being arrested or fined for being too old to trick-or-treat.

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If anything, officers will let teens off with a warning or a call to their parents, said Lou Thurston, spokesman for the Newport News Police Department in Virginia.

"It's not like we have officers that are patrolling the neighborhoods saying 'How old are you?' That's not the point," Thurston said. "The point is making the place safe."

Even if they wanted to, officials acknowledge the laws are difficult to enforce. Still, they say putting the word out about the laws every year keeps too many teens from violating the bans.

There's no way to know exactly how many cities have such ordinances. The National League of Cities doesn't keep track of ordinances, and states have left such matters up to the localities.

Trick-or-treating evolved out of the late medieval custom of children asking for treats in exchange for praying for the dead of the household, said Hans Broedel, a University of North Dakota history professor and expert on early traditions.

Tricks — usually vandalism and other debauchery by teens and young adults — were a big part of Halloween for a time until a conscious effort in the 19th and early 20th centuries to shift the celebration toward children, Broedel said.

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Excluding teens from trick-or-treating could make it more appealing to do other, less desirable, things, he said.

"Trick-or-treating in a large part is embraced in this country because it serves to cut down on teenage vandalism," Broedel said. "Certainly telling teenagers they can't go trick-or-treating isn't going to stop them from going out on Halloween and doing whatever."

John Womeldorf, a real estate agent in James City County, Va., has two sons ages 12 and 11. He said his 12-year-old is bummed that this will be his last year to trick-or-treat, but he looks forward to scaring kids who come for candy next year.

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Womeldorf said he doesn't remember any such rules as a kid but see why they might be necessary now.

"It is a different world than I grew up in so I guess we do have to have certain things like that in place to be enforced if needed," he said.

TODAY Moms: Should teens be legally banned from trick-or-treating? Vote here

Still, Alisa Alexander Goetz of Jordan, Minn., questions why such restrictions are needed. Kids grow up too fast, she said, so why not let them continue the tradition?

Of trick or treating, she said, "It's better than them out drinking or getting into trouble."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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