A spate of creepy clown reports across the country has a central Maine police chief concerned that such costumes on Halloween could spell trouble and increase the risk to public safety.

Waterville police Chief Joseph Massey is recommending people not dress up as creepy clowns on Halloween, given all the negative attention such clowns have received both locally and around the country. Meanwhile, Waterville police have responded to a handful of reports in recent weeks about creepy clowns in Waterville.

“Adults and children really ought to think twice before they wear creepy clown costumes for this Halloween,” Massey said.

He said adults attending Halloween parties and traveling to and from such events should be aware of their surroundings and use common sense if they do wear clown costumes. The police chief said younger children wearing clown costumes could appear to be adults, depending on their size, and it would be unfortunate if they were harmed.

“I think a lot of people are very concerned when they see people dressing up as creepy clowns,” Massey said. “I’d hate to see someone react to someone wearing a clown costume in a violent or aggressive way because they feel threatened.”

A plethora of clown-related hoaxes and concerns has swept across the country in recent months. The first suspicious clown-related incidents occurred in late August in South Carolina. Since then, reports have come from half a dozen other states, with some people saying they’ve been chased by clowns or that clowns have attempted to lure away children. The creepy clown phenomenon has also resulted in school closures and threats on social media.

Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, said the organization doesn’t have a position on Halloween clown costumes but he called Massey’s recommendation “not a bad idea.”

“Anything to keep people safe,” Schwartz said. “You never know today.”

This month, an Auburn woman reported that a clown in the back seat of vehicle made a gun shape with his fingers and said “bang” to her, prompting the woman to pull out her 9 mm handgun to scare him away.

Waterville police have responded to several creepy clown sightings in the city since Oct. 6, when between 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., they received three reports on College Avenue, in the area of Huhtamaki, according to Massey. Motorists said the clowns would step out into the road as cars drove by, and one driver said a clown chased his car, according to Massey.

“Officers were dispatched to the area each time and were not able to locate anyone in a clown costume,” he said.

On Oct. 7, a driver reported seeing two people in clown costumes at the intersection of Armory Road and Drummond Avenue. When the clowns started to approach a woman’s car, she drove off, Massey said. Officers checked the area but did not find any clowns.

At about 6:45 p.m. on Oct. 13 at Shaw’s Plaza off Kennedy Memorial Drive, a motorist reported seeing someone in a clown costume in the parking lot, according to Massey. The person reporting the incident did so 15 minutes after the sighting, and again, officers were not able to find a clown, Massey said.

“There was no aggressive behavior by the clowns, other than they posed a traffic hazard by stepping in the roadway and distracting drivers’ attention,” he said of the College Avenue reports.

Massey’s concern about Halloween isn’t shared by some store owners selling costumes.

Are You Ready to Party, a costume store on Sanger Avenue in Waterville, no longer sells clown costumes. Tom Davis, the store owner, said a store fire about a year ago halted rentals for a while, but he never brought the clown costume back in stock after that. The store sells only a small red clown nose.

“They’re creepy,” Davis said of clowns, adding that he decided to stop stocking the costume as a “gut feeling.” It’s the same reason he chose not to sell any masks when he opened the store 17 years ago – he doesn’t want something bought at his store used for the wrong purpose.

Davis said he can’t recall anything quite like the recent clown phenomenon in those 17 years, though.

“I think it’s a copycat world,” he said of the creepy clown sightings. He said that people don’t think about the real effects of what they see on social media.

Other central Maine police departments said they are not concerned about clowns. Winslow police Chief Shawn O’Leary said his force hasn’t responded to any sightings.

“I think your average, normal person understands it’s people just being funny, silly or inappropriate,” O’Leary said. “Personally, I don’t feel it’s a real concern.”

Oakland police Chief Mike Tracy also said his department hasn’t had any reports of clown sightings, and that it will be “business as usual” for his police force on Halloween.

Danielle Nault, owner of the Outskirts Vintage Clothing store in Farmington, said that while she had not heard about the nationwide clown reports, she thinks that the national attention is more of a reason to dress up as clowns for Halloween.

“I think that people should totally do it,” Nault said. “Release a little stress if they have to; have fun with it.”

Nault’s store in downtown Farmington specializes in vintage attire and costumes. But around Halloween, Nault offers traditional costume sets as well. This year she is selling a “Pennywise” clown mask – complete with arms that outstretch holding a fake gun – which is the main villain in the Stephen King horror novel “It.” Nault said a few people have asked if she carries clown attire this season, which she said is not out of the ordinary.

However, she said that she is seeing an increase from previous seasons in the number of people wanting to do circus-themed costumes in general. She also noted that she has seen a greater than usual number of women planning to dress up as Harley Quinn, a jesterlike DC Comics character who is a sidekick of Batman villain The Joker.

“It seems like a lot of people are doing different versions of clowns,” Nault said.

In Augusta, where police have received only one creepy-clown complaint and were unable to find anyone, clown costumes are available for Halloween. A survey of Party Time shows the store stocks a variety of scary clown masks for adults, scary clown props and a sinister jester costume for children. The store manager referred questions to Party Time’s public relations firm, which did not respond to queries Wednesday.

Staff writers Lauren Abbate and Jessica Lowell contributed reporting.