Halloween has come and gone, but one crime fighter continues to don the instantly recognizable — and swelteringly hot — costume to assure keiki everywhere that McGruff the Crime Dog is on the case.
For years, Big Island students have learned lessons about the dangers of crossing the street, bullying, drugs and truancy from the anthropomorphic bloodhound. Now, Hawaii Police Department’s Community Policing Division is asking for $2,061 to buy a second costume, allowing officers to bring McGruff’s message to children islandwide with more frequency.
“It’s kind of like going to Disneyland and seeing Mickey Mouse,” explained County Councilman Dennis Onishi, who has requested the money for the second suit from his county discretionary fund. “My understanding is it does have an impact, especially on younger kids. They are so happy McGruff is coming to their school. It catches their attention.”
While $2,000 may seem like a lot of money for a costume, Onishi said the island’s current McGruff costume has seen a lot of action over the years and continues to look good and operate well, despite developing a bit of a smell.
“I don’t know how long they’ve had the original one, and I’m not sure how much they had it dry cleaned, but there’s an odor that’s started to build up,” Onishi said.
Lt. John Briski, former head of the Community Policing Division, has worn the costume many times.
“It’s not very comfortable,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s warm. You have limited sight. I wouldn’t want to be in it for much longer than 15 or 20 minutes, because it’s that hot.”
Included in Onishi’s request, which was scheduled to be heard today by the full County Council, is $300 for a cooling vest, which accommodates frozen inserts that help to make the toasty confines a little more bearable. The large headpiece includes a fan to circulate air.
The officers who wear the costume have to be animated, but also must refrain from speaking, Briski said. That way, they can keep the character consistent when children see him portrayed by different actors at different events.
At McGruff’s side, another officer usually plays the role of “handler,” telling a story and sharing lessons, Briski said.
Ultimately the exercise is a valuable one — not only for the keiki, but for the man inside the costume.
“All too often, as a police officer you only see the negative side of things,” he said. “It’s refreshing to be able to help kids and have them see you in a positive light.”
Email Colin M. Stewart at firstname.lastname@example.org.