Taneytown Police Chief W.E. Tyler has the perfect phrase for them: “Crimes of Boredom.”

As parents and teachers know, it is difficult to get – and hold – teenagers’ attention. And if they fail, more often than not, the result is malaise.

And sometimes, a side effect of boredom is wanton defacement of property., i.e., vandalism.

At Halloween time, that often means pumpkin-smashing, trashcan-tipping, toilet-paper “rolling,” and various other “tricks” that come as the alternative to “treating,” as in “trick-or-treating”; the defacement or destruction of property that does not involve theft or other forms of crime.

Nevertheless, there is law-breaking involved. In our society, it is against the law to destroy someone else’s property, regardless of motivation. Of course, in the case of Halloween pranks, the motivation is, as Chief Tyler infers, simple boredom.

How else to explain the “tricking” part of “trick-or-treating?”

Originally, “All Hallows’ Eve” (October 31) has its roots in the pagan celebration of harvest-time, or festivals of the dead, hence the persistence of spooky images, such as skeletons, grotesque pumpkin faces, zombie costumes, etc.

On the other hand, in modern times, you might say that Halloween is just an excuse for thrill-seeking; something akin to dodging traffic at rush hour, or bungee-jumping, surfing, and Russian roulette.

As an antidote, some community organizations have created activities, such as parties, dances, film screenings, theatrical performances, or even charitable endeavors that they hope will keep the little devils busy – divert their minds and hands (the old saw “idle hands are the devil’s workshop” comes to mind) – on a night traditionally dedicated to mischief.

Police departments will be on the alert. Westminster’s police, according to Sgt. Keith Benfer, will be beefing up patrols, adding personnel in certain neighborhoods, keeping an eye out for pranksters, and in general, doing their job, which is keeping the peace.