War on clowns

Police vow ‘uncompromising’ crackdown on ‘illegal’ clown impersonators

Public urged ‘not to take the law into its hands’ against minors in disguise, as Education Ministry issues guidelines to help children cope

Clip from the movie 'It,' thought to have helped inspire copycat clowns in the northern Israeli town of Afula, September 2017. (YouTube screenshot)
Clip from the movie 'It,' thought to have helped inspire copycat clowns in the northern Israeli town of Afula, September 2017. (YouTube screenshot)

Police on Tuesday vowed “illegal” clown impersonators would be met with “strict and uncompromising police enforcement,” as children in clown masks spooking Israelis after dark left many people on edge.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, police described the recent phenomenon as part of an “international trend that has gathered momentum on social media” and said they had detained “many youths” dressed up as clowns throughout the country.

Describing their actions as “an illegal act,” police said violators “will encounter strict and uncompromising police enforcement” and called on parents to ensure “their children are not taking part in the phenomenon, which may embroil them in criminal proceedings.”

A person dressed up as a clown in the northern city of Afula. (Screen capture: Facebook)

Police also warned the clowns could be mistaken for a “credible threat” and end with the teenagers being harmed by bystanders. Police asked the public “not to take the law into its hands and not to harm the youths” since the majority of their antics did not result in any harm to people or property.

In light of the clown scare, the Education Ministry also published guidelines on Tuesday meant to help children cope with the clown impostors.

“In recent weeks we’ve been receiving reports from students dressing as clowns, going out into the streets and lying in wait for children and others in order to frighten the public,” the ministry said.

It said parents should “hold a conversation that promotes awareness of the issue… while providing information and an address to which to turn for help.”

Should teachers decide to talk to their students about the clowns, “it is important to emphasize and take into account the age of the students. The conversations must be adapted to their developmental stage, and shouldn’t frighten but rather convey soothing messages and increase their sense of security.”

The ministry said menacing others is a form of violence, and parents should lodge police complaints against any scary clowns they encounter.

The statements from police and the Education Ministry came after police and media reports on Tuesday said eight minors were detained on suspicion of dressing up as clowns and “causing panic” among locals.

The police response came amid a spate of reports in recent days of clowns lurking in public places after dark trying to scare people,  most likely inspired by the recently released horror movie “It” based on a Stephen King novel and featuring Pennywise, the dancing clown.

In the Tel Aviv suburb of Holon, police detained a 14-year-old and a 16-year-old on Monday for wearing clown masks and frightening people in a public park. Police said a hammer was found in one of the minor’s bags that they suspected was used to scare passersby.

The two were later released after they confessed to their actions and expressed regret, police said Tuesday.

In a separate incident, police detained two 14-year-olds from Kiryat Gat for dressing up as clowns and scaring people. They told investigators they were “clowning around,” police said in a statement.

The two were detained on Monday after police received a call that two clowns were at a park in the city.

Police had said they were looking into a number of similar complaints of young people dressing up as clowns and frightening people, but noted that wearing face paint and red noses is not crime.

Channel 2 reported Monday that residents of Ashdod, Ofakim and Dimona — all in southern Israel —  noted a rise in similar cases, which often take place late at night.

“As I was walking down the street on my way home in the middle of the night, someone jumped behind me with a clown costume and yelled at me,” a Dimona resident told Channel 2. “Luckily I didn’t have a heart attack.”

“I had a pistol; luckily I didn’t shoot him by mistake,” he said. “This is really not funny.”

In response to the phenomenon, police in Dimona detained four minors aged 10-11 in an undercover operation, according to Channel 2.

Last week, residents of the northern city of Afula were abuzz after a number of sightings of clowns lurking in the streets after dark.

Posted by ‎חדשות עפולה והסביבה‎ on Sunday, September 24, 2017

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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