A Cop Weighs in on When to Call 911 on a Parent

Hi Folks! This essay comes to us from Glen Evans, a 22 year police veteran and father of four.  In 2004, a man in a car pulled up to his son and said some strange things.  Instead of freaking out,  he and his kids developed what he calls “a program to teach his kids how to handle creeps.” He likens it to cops learning how to use a gun. Most likely, they’ll never need it. But knowing what to do in an emergency makes them not just prepared, but confident. Once parents see how smart and assertive their kids can be, they gain confidence, too. Being a cop has not stopped Glen from letting his kids lead “fun, free, and adventurous lives,”  He blogs at  childsafetyfun.com.

WHEN YOU CALL 911 YOU GET ME, by GLEN EVANS

The government has done a good job of programming people to call them for everything.  Being a street cop for 22 years, I have witnessed America’s slide from self-reliance to dependence in incremental steps. 

The invention of 911 has been a good thing and undoubtedly has saved many lives, prevented crimes, and has aided us in apprehending dangerous people.

It has also revealed an embarrassing lack of critical thinking and common sense among some who call the police for everything.  My favorite 911 call is the unknown problem call.

You haven’t lived until you have rushed to a capable citizen’s home to discover they want you to change the channel on the TV, take out their garbage, guide them out of their house when a tree has fallen and blocked the front entrance. (HINT: Go out the back door), or to tell a kid they should wear a helmet while jumping a bike over a ramp. 

It has also led to a convenient tattle-tale machine, which allows helicopter parents to report non-helicopter parents anonymously if they observe behavior they don’t agree with.

SPEED DIALING THE COPS

I have actually responded to calls like a parent yelling at their kid in a store, leaving pre-teen kids in a car while they go in to shop, or allowing them to stay home alone with (YIKES!) no parent at home.

If yelling at your kid in a store has become a crime, I am in serious trouble.  In the interest of full disclosure, I have also allowed my 10 year old daughter to stay home with younger siblings for a little while.

I haven’t gone to jail yet, but if Children’s Services shows up at my door, I take comfort in the fact the statute of limitations has probably expired.

While I am required to answer every call under the heading of service, I find these types of calls a bit annoying, especially when I arrive and find a smart kid who has exercised his Constitutionally free choice to climb a tree, or hold a boxing match with his buddies in the front yard.

WHAT AGE CAN I LEAVE MY KID ALONE?

One question I receive from many parents is, “How old does my child have to be before I can leave them home alone?”  Having come from a generation of latchkey kids, where 8 year old kids could walk home alone, unlock a door, and watch TV until mom or dad came home from work, I’m never sure what I should say. So I always ask, “Well, how old do you think your child should be?”  They usually answer 10 or 11.  I tell them that since they are the child’s parent, they would probably know the best age to allow this.

Parents are afraid.  Along with the daily media reminder their kids might die tortuous deaths, they also worry they might end up in jail if they allow their kids to walk to school alone.

All of this can be solved by applying good, old-fashioned common sense and a balanced approach to safety.

A PRETTY SAFE WORLD

Having taught thousands of parents and kids simple, common sense safety techniques, I have learned that they all want reassurance that the world is generally a safe place with very nice people in it.  In spite of being a cop for 22 years, I still believe it is.

I teach them that most strangers are great people who are very helpful, but give them a few techniques to bolster their confidence and give their minds a rest knowing they will probably never need their skills, but if they find themselves in a jam, they know what to do.

After the seminar, I hope they go home and let their kids go out to play past the time of the street lights going on and to live full, fear-free lives.

I want parents to apply the advice from modern sage Ron Popeil of Ronco Chicken Rotisserie fame: “Set it and forget it!”

Once you know you have taught your kids self reliance skills to handle unlikely scenarios, you can go back to living your life knowing you did your best and covered the important bases with very simple plans.

WHEN YOU REALLY SHOULD CALL 911

Here is a simple guide for 911 and use of your local police department.  If someone is bleeding or about to die feel free to use it, we would love to help.

However, if your neighbor’s kid is doing something they shouldn’t be doing, refrain from calling the police, unless bleeding or about to die criteria apply, and let their parents know what you saw and trust they will do the right thing.

But be careful, you might have to actually talk to your neighbor, which may lead to them reporting your child’s behavior to you. And that kind of old-fashioned  communication may lead to neighborly relationships and co-discipline agreements amongst neighborhood parents — all letting their kids play outside.

Imagine that. – G. E. 

 

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28 Responses to A Cop Weighs in on When to Call 911 on a Parent

  1. Andrew October 27, 2014 at 11:47 am #

    OMG! Common sense. Someone should report him.

  2. Thea October 27, 2014 at 11:53 am #

    My sister told me yesterday that her friend had called 911 on a father while at lunch at a local fast food place. The friend was walking in while the dad was walking out with the screaming toddler. She watched the father buckle the child in to the car, lock it and walk back inside. (Please note, it was about 70 degrees that day.Not hot IMO.)

    Friend walks up to dad and says, “so you just locked your kid in the car.” Father responds, “yes, she’s in time out.” When father makes no move to instantly retrieve the child the friend calls 911.

    I don’t know what happened after but my sister was proud of her friend. While I absolutely believe that you should be able to do what that dad did, it probably wasn’t the wisest of moves in that location. It’s a great idea for home though. My sister said, “what if he did it when it was hot out?” I asked her on what basis could she make that judgment call on a person she doesn’t know. It wasn’t hot and the time out wasn’t probably more than a couple minutes, based on the age of the child.

    I was just so surprised that I knew anyone, even second hand, that would do that.

  3. MichaelF October 27, 2014 at 12:11 pm #

    My sister said, “what if he did it when it was hot out?”

    But it wasn’t! Just using the what if expands the question from the issue at hand into something it’s not, and never was. That is avoidance of the issue and expounds into a realm of parental philosophy that is beyond the scope. This is my problem with the people who use the Police as a Nanny-tool.

  4. EricS October 27, 2014 at 12:22 pm #

    “… which may lead to them reporting your child’s behavior to you. And that kind of old-fashioned communication may lead to neighborly relationships and co-discipline agreements amongst neighborhood parents — all letting their kids play outside.”

    Common sense and reason. That’s all it takes. Hopefully coming from a point of authority (the very people called upon to look into a child quietly, and comfortably enjoying sitting in the car while mom or dad, pay for gas), it will triggers the rational part of the brain in many people. Since, many people these days don’t take anything seriously, unless it comes from the media, experts, or police.

    There are 2 types of people in the world. Those who use common sense, and those who don’t. Using common sense greatly affects the decisions you make in life. Whether it’s to keep yourself out of jail, or to keep your children smart and safe.

    Kudos to Officer Evans. May there be more cops like him that follow suit.

  5. David DeLugas October 27, 2014 at 12:25 pm #

    Cheers to this police officer. Now, if only he was advising all government entities, too, so that they would not respond to every call or report unless and until there is imminent danger of severe injury or death (or actual injury). Cheers to Free Range Kids for constantly reminding parents of the true risks rather than the imagined risks. The National Association of Parents sees this as the police officer does, that it is the parents’ responsibility AND right to decide the acceptable level of risk for their own child/children and for no one else to do so . . . per the Constitution and the US Supreme Court’s interpretation of parents’ rights. JOIN with other parents so that we may battle on your behalf. https://www.parentsusa.org

  6. Mike in Virginia October 27, 2014 at 12:26 pm #

    We’ve already had the neighbor three houses down in our tightly packed (and very safe) subdivision bring our seven year old home after we told him he can ride his scooter out front and play with his friends. She told us that she understands everyone makes different parenting choices, but she feels that if he comes over and plays in front of her house while she is out with her kids, that makes him her responsibility. We insisted that he is not her responsibility and if he is doing something wrong or bothering the other kids in some way, she can feel free to send him away. She said she could never do that, because she would be responsible if something happens to him. After all, there is. . . wait for it. . . a child sexual predator in the neighborhood.

    There isn’t, really. There is a mentally disabled man living under house arrest with his family’s supervision because he got a hold of some child pornography. He never touched a child and wasn’t charged with such, and he doesn’t leave the house and no one goes to the house. I feel safe, the rest of the neighborhood does not. And this is the most difficult thing about trying to raise free-range kids. Its the rest of society that wants to make it difficult. If this mother feels unsafe, I feel sorry for her and wish she could read Lenore’s book and feel better, but I can’t make her. All I can do is respect her parenting decisions. Hopefully she will respect ours. No 911 or CPS call yet, but its the thing I worry about every day (and part of FRK is supposed to be about letting go of all of that worry. . .).

  7. EricS October 27, 2014 at 12:40 pm #

    @Thea: Social Media has empowered everyone to speak their mind. Even if it’s full of stupidity, arrogance and sanctimony. It makes people feel better about themselves. All the while, they never truly see how stupid and arrogant it makes them. And the simple fact that they are allowed to do these things without consequence, only makes them feel more superior to others. It’s as easily as comparing parents 25 years ago, to parents of today. It’s not surprising, but at the same time baffling, how even the common sense parents of the last generation, have become the irrational, fearing, and paranoid grand parents of today. All because of media. People have stopped using common sense and reason. And blindly follows what people tell them to believe. Regardless of how detrimental it can be in the long run for children.

  8. Dirk October 27, 2014 at 12:55 pm #

    People kept saying to me “wait till it happens to you.” Well it did. Someone called the cops because my child was throwing a tantrum. The cop hung outside my house for a bit, I walked up and introduced myself. He ended up chatting and saying there was a noise complaint. But that everything looked fine here. I’ve yet to see anything personally that points to an epidemic of overreach.

  9. no rest for the weary October 27, 2014 at 12:57 pm #

    I’m happily married but I have a huge crush on Officer Evans.

  10. no rest for the weary October 27, 2014 at 12:58 pm #

    Also, Lenore: can you bring Officer Evans along with you on some of your appearances and speaking engagements? I want EVERYONE to hear what he has to say!!

  11. Dirk October 27, 2014 at 1:00 pm #

    But what the cop says here makes a lot of sense. It is great to finally see something here from an actual police officer. Everything he says makes sense. A balanced approach works, both towards safety and realizing that the world is full or rules and busybodies (“Along with the daily media reminder their kids might die tortuous deaths, they also worry they might end up in jail if they allow their kids to walk to school alone.”) But he also says repeatedly that you have to use discretion in allowing kids to be on their own; that if they “find themselves in a jam,” they have to “know what to do.” But he also illustrates that the police have a great deal of discretion in their policing powers.

  12. Thea October 27, 2014 at 1:02 pm #

    @MichaelF-I know and agree with you! There was no reason that child couldn’t have the time out in the car from a weather perspective. I was astounded that they would make that type of assumption.

    @EricS-Completely agree. Added to that, I’ll say that my sister and her friend are both nurses and freely admit to being extra nosy by virtue of being nurses.

  13. Donna October 27, 2014 at 1:16 pm #

    I am sitting in court where a guy (not my client) is as I type pleading guilty to reckless conduct because he left a child in a car. This is despite the fact that the person who called 911 was a doctor who stated that the child was not in any distress when he called.

  14. K October 27, 2014 at 1:30 pm #

    Yay for common sense – let’s hope it’s contagious.

  15. Stacy October 27, 2014 at 2:00 pm #

    This is refreshing to read. Although I live in a fairly free range neighborhood, I’m beginning to see worrying signs from a few who don’t seem to like the neighborhood trend of letting kids be kids. We now have an email neighborhood watch system and have been receiving occasional warnings about the dangers of kids on scooters and the dangers of kids fishing in the pond.
    I admit I have called 911, years ago. But that’s because a pickup reversed at full speed down the road with a young woman half hanging out, she jumped out and ran to a door, and a man violently dragged her back into the truck. My husband and I and another neighbor ran outside and couldn’t believe that most people stared through their windows not doing anything. It’s funny how people seem more willing to “get involved” when there isn’t actually any danger.

  16. BL October 27, 2014 at 2:11 pm #

    It’s SUPPOSED to be illegal to make frivolous calls to 911, n’est-ce pas?

    How about some prosecutions for THAT?

  17. SOA October 27, 2014 at 2:29 pm #

    Thank you for your words. Very well said.

    I got a good laugh out of the horribly dumb reasons people call the cops. The back door one was my favorite. Too bad we can’t make being stupid illegal.

  18. Papilio October 27, 2014 at 3:26 pm #

    @BL: YES! That sounds certainly necessary if people call the cops to find their back door. (How did they ever leave Kindergarten?)

  19. Beth October 27, 2014 at 4:28 pm #

    Sheesh, is my 911 center the only one that has a non-emergency number for, well, non-emergencies? I doubt it. People, put your local police non-emergency number in your phone and use that if you absolutely positively have to call something in that is not a true emergency requiring immediate response. Depending on the size of your community and the Public Safety Answering Point that covers it, you still might get the same calltakers, but you won’t be tying up a 911 line (there are finite numbers of those) when someone with a true emergency is trying to call.

    And that is my public service message for today. Onward!!

  20. lollipoplover October 27, 2014 at 6:33 pm #

    “But be careful, you might have to actually talk to your neighbor, which may lead to them reporting your child’s behavior to you. And that kind of old-fashioned communication may lead to neighborly relationships and co-discipline agreements amongst neighborhood parents — all letting their kids play outside.”

    This.

    Part of what I love about where I live is knowing my neighbors and the other kids that play in our neighborhood and commute to school with my kids. When we have issues we call each other or knock on doors and discuss over a glass of wine. The kids are as much a part of this community too and are held accountable for their own actions, not the parents. Calling the police means you live in a bad neighborhood. Period.

  21. SteveS October 27, 2014 at 9:24 pm #

    It is illegal to make a false 911 call in most places. I doubt a frivolous call is illegal.

  22. Caroline October 27, 2014 at 10:25 pm #

    This Mom of 3, 911 dispatcher for 19 years, married to a cop much like Officer Evans approves. More like jumping for joy. How refreshing.

  23. J.T. Wenting October 28, 2014 at 12:31 am #

    “Parents are afraid. Along with the daily media reminder their kids might die tortuous deaths, they also worry they might end up in jail if they allow their kids to walk to school alone.”

    In the current legal and media climate (especially with the near blanket powers CPS has), are we really surprised parents are afraid like that?

    “While I absolutely believe that you should be able to do what that dad did, it probably wasn’t the wisest of moves in that location. It’s a great idea for home though”

    If it isn’t, it should be. What else can the father do? Drag the child who’s kicking and screaming at everything and everyone through that store for another hour, which would lead to more police calls from people thinking he’s a “child abductor”? Or staff throwing him out for disturbing other customers (as they should if he did that)?
    Or should he give in to the child and give it what it wants, probably candy, new toys, etc., thus rewarding the child for such behaviour which is bad?
    Or just go home and not get the shopping done?

    No, that father did the smart thing, weather be darned. If it’s hot outside, leave a few windows slightly open.
    Of course next time he should probably leave the child at home, locked in its room with no television, computer, or cellphone.

    “I am sitting in court where a guy (not my client) is as I type pleading guilty to reckless conduct because he left a child in a car. This is despite the fact that the person who called 911 was a doctor who stated that the child was not in any distress when he called.”

    Happens all the time in the US “justice” system. People plead guilty based on threats from prosecutors to bring even worse charges if they don’t, knowing full well that you can never trust a jury to be smart and not convict the innocent.
    If he’d not pleaded guilty to reckless conduct, the court would likely have added a charge of child endangerment and maybe others, jury would have found guilty, and the penalty would have been much higher.
    Innocent people plead guilty on manslaughter charges on a promise they’ll “only get 5-10 years” after threats to be charged with murder and the prosecutor demanding life or the death penalty.
    Brilliant, isn’t it?

    “It’s SUPPOSED to be illegal to make frivolous calls to 911, n’est-ce pas?”

    it is. BUT a “concerned citizen” calling about something “they think is wrong” isn’t frivolous, it’s just erroneous.
    And a great excuse for a busybody police department to increase its powers over the population, show that “they’re actively engaged in the community”.
    The main reasons people get arrested or fined for making frivolous calls to 911 are people reporting fires when there is clearly nothing wrong, people calling 911 to report a cat up a tree, and companies with oversensitive fire alarms that autodial 911 several times a week during a hot summer because they think the high temperatures they notice indicate the building is on fire (yes, I’ve worked for one such company, after we had the fire department show up with big material 3 times in 2 weeks, the 4th time when there actually was a fire they didn’t take it seriously and sent a single guy first to see if there really was something going on. Luckily it was easily put out with a single fire extinguisher).

  24. Lex October 28, 2014 at 7:10 am #

    Appropriate 911 use may vary by municipality. In Boston, citizens are encouraged to call 911 for not just serious crimes but quality of life concerns like loud parties and aggressive unleashed dogs. 911 can lead to response by police, fire, ambulance, or animal control, and the compiled statistics set policing priorities.

  25. Fred October 28, 2014 at 7:35 am #

    This guy doesn’t seem to get it. The biggest fear most parents I know have is of the police. I’m not worried about my two sons ability to keep themselves safe from the world in general, but I am concerned that somehow the police will take notice of them (or my dog) and be forced to follow some ridiculous procedure. Eg. cop finds a kid riding a bike alone. Is forced by procedure to stop and bring the kids home. Then is forced by procedure to report to cps for follow-up. CPS is forced to follow up with a series of visits and place the child in a temporary house, again due to standard procedure. etc, etc.

    The reason parents ask what age they’re allowed to leave their children home alone is not because they don’t know when it’s safe, it’s because they want a number they can point to to protect themselves from the police. “Parents judgment” is another way of saying “if anyone disagrees with you, we’ll take your kids away”

  26. Donna October 28, 2014 at 8:45 am #

    Most crimes require a mens rea – criminal mind. The only way that you can be charged with false report of a crime or false 911 call is if you KNOW it was false when you called. Reporting a fire when you know there is no fire. Pawning your jewelry and then reporting it stolen. Staging your own kidnapping.

    Calling 911 for something that you truly believe to be dangerous or illegal but actually isn’t is not a crime. It isn’t a crime even if you danger radar is way off because you had no criminal intent when you called.

  27. Dhewco October 28, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

    I live in a small rural county. When 911 became active here, the city police regular number was routed to 911. If there’s a direct number, I can’t seem to find it. You can still call the county sheriff, but he doesn’t do service in the cities…unless it’s one of the villages that don’t have full time police force. One village of 850 people only has a chief and two part time patrol officers. (the county will go there)

  28. Jon Daley November 5, 2014 at 10:09 am #

    The problem is that not all cops are like this guy. I was berated by two cops when they received a call of kids in a car (with the windows open). The main issue in their minds was that some homeless guy might come and hot wire the car, and that the kids were eating cherries.

    They said they wouldn’t ever let his own ten year old eat a cherry without adult supervision.

    It’s a scary world we live in… because of the police.