The macabre props and background on display at Northglenn’s Safe Street Halloween aren’t just scary - that have a special meaning for their creator Northglenn Police Chief Jim May.
May sculpts his “props,” as he calls them, from …
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May sculpts his “props,” as he calls them, from stryrofoam and they’ve been a staple at the department-sponsored Halloween celebration since 2002. And this year, his creations were also displayed at Northglenn Pirate Fest
But he began making the pieces after April 22, 1999 - the shooting at Columbine High School.
May and some of his fellow officers with the Northglenn-Thornton SWAT team were called to assist in the aftermath of the shooting. The death and devastation of those young people made a deep impression on May, at the time the father of two small boys.
“You don’t forget seeing something like that, and the absolutely crushing pain it inflicts onto the survivors,” he said. “Even now, when I close my eyes I can see it, it takes me back there.”
Several members of the SWAT team resigned after that day and some even left law enforcement all together, he said.
But it made May realize that police departments needed to do a better job of being good role models and connecting with young people. Both Safe Street Halloween and the Teen Police Academy, a program to teach young people about law enforcement, grew out of that realization.
Since first held in 1999, Safe Street Halloween has been sponsored by the Northglenn Police Department and located at Northglenn High School. In the beginning, the police officers bought all the candy and decorations out of their own pockets. The decorations were costly, so in 2002 May sought an alternative and was inspired by a Styrofoam artist to create his own.
Not an artist himself, May gamely jumped into carving Styrofoam decorations. Acknowledging that his artistic ability has improved over time, May still has the first Frankenstein head he ever carved.
“It wasn’t very good, but I love it,” he said.
His efforts are all volunteer and the decorations are donated.
Working out of a shop in the basement of his home, May said he has lost count of the number of decorations he has created for Safe Street Halloween, but believes it’s close to 100. He uses Styrofoam, clay, cotton balls, latex spray foam and paint as he crafts his props. He doesn’t draw them first, but simply starts carving.
“I learn as I go making new decorations, fixing broken ones, and sometimes taking someone else’s and improving it,” said May. “It’s for the kids, their smiling faces, that’s what counts.”
While his art can be a little frightening, it provides May with a retreat.
“I’ve seen so much horror and tragedy,” he said. “Creating these decorations is a release, it helps me deal with the images in a positive way. It’s relaxing,” he said.
Safe Street Halloween has grown from 1,000 attendees the first year to more than 5,000. The police department collects and distributes about 3,500 pounds of donated candy. The Northglenn High School students dress up in costume, decorate their classrooms and hallways, and wait for trick or treaters to arrive.
Describing it as a “huge deal,” May acknowledges the efforts made by scores of community volunteers.
“It’s been good,” he says.
Margo Aldrich is the Public Communications Manager for the City of Northglenn.
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