Five years ago, there was a massive uptick in clown-related crime alerts. Was it just people generally being scared of clowns? Or had the Joker finally succeeded in his 80-year-long schemes? The answer remains unclear. But, as the US Joint Regional Intelligence Center noted at the time (emphasis added):
In the most recent trend since August 2016, dozens of sightings of people dressed as menacing clowns, often in dark or secluded areas, have been reported to police and news media nationwide. Many alleged, unverified sightings have been shared on social media. Some variants involve unsubstantiated, mass- forwarded claims on social media that groups of clowns plan to attack schools.
The JRIC has no information to indicate any specific, credible threat involving clown sightings, including any organized criminal or terrorist plotting. Law enforcement personnel investigating reports of suspicious clowns should be aware they may sometimes carry items which could be used as weapons. Increased public awareness of the trend and unchecked social media propagation of related text and images is likely to generate additional clown sightings of copycats eager to join in this activity.
Again: this was real life, not the Gotham City Police Blotter.
That distinction is crucial, because at least in Gotham City, the police would consider looking into a sudden rash of reports about menacing clowns carrying deadly weapons disguised as clown props. But as Motherboard recently reported, that's the exact opposite of how US Police actually responded:
Motherboard recently asked police across the U.S. for specific clown-related records from fall 2016. Departments in Amherst, Austin, Champaign, Chicago, Columbus, Fort Worth, Houston, Jacksonville, Lansing, Newark, Phoenix, San Francisco, and San Jose, though, reported that diligent searches revealed no records of a response to the clown menace, no surveillance of clown-themed social media accounts, and no comprehensive analyses of the issue. Left unchecked, the clowns have flourished, raising the question of just what the ultimate costs of police inaction may be. Last October, residents of London, Ontario were faced with a mysterious, balloon-wielding clown; recently, residents of Annandale, Minnesota have been unnerved by a local jester.
"The guy is standing in front of somebody's house," said a local tavern owner, "making their dog bark."
That being said, some Police Departments did heighten surveillance on clown-related activity, particularly among high school students. From The Guardian:
Vague threats from social media users dressed as menacing clowns in 2016 led to intense police monitoring of their accounts and an effort to "identify those who may be responsible", according to records from Washington DC's Metropolitan police department (MPD).
An 3 October 2016 document, entitled Social Media Clown Threats, laid out measures taken over the previous four days in relation to "threats coming from accounts created by unknown persons with profile pictures of clowns" on "the popular Social Media sites today like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc".
The reported incidents in the police intelligence document included a middle schooler who was suspended for bringing a clown mask to school, and some failed attempts to obtain warrants in order to get information about several clown social media accounts. In one particularly harrowing case, an eighth-grade girl reported, "that she definitely saw two individuals wearing Clown Masks while they were walking on the dirt path from Somerset heading towards Alabama Ave near the Liff's Market." The clowns were unarmed, according to the student, and did not threaten her, or really do anything other than be clowns. Still, the police concluded, the situation merited "further investigation."
There was no further information on a follow-up to this clowning menace.
Cops Ignored Threat Posed by Menacing Clowns [Tim Marchman / Vice]
Threats by menacing clowns led DC police to surveil online accounts [Jason Wilson / The Guardian]
Image: Public Domain via NeedPix