A Man in Uniform (Is Trusted. Otherwise — Forget It)

Hi ihbikztzts
Readers — Here’s a letter from a 22-year-old paramedic in Queensland, Australia, where folks, too, seem to suffer from the modern-day problem I call “Worst-first thinking.” What I mean is: When an adult and a child interact, onlookers often assume the worst, first. Like so — Lenore

Dear Free-Range Kids: So, it was a training day the other day.  For lunch we decide to meet at the local park. Picture this: a dozen paramedics, six ambulances, a few assessors all sitting around a park enjoying our lunch.

A mother comes up with two small children.

A crew (one male, one female) shows the children through their ambulance and puts on the lights for them (note: small children + flashing lights = much joy).

The male paramedic comes back and jokes how if he wasn’t in uniform he would have been lynched for showing children through his ambulance. And then an interesting conversation begins amongst the males of our group.

The uniform vs. no uniform.

How when they are in uniform the males are allowed to talk to children.

But when they are in civilian clothing they do that only at their own risk.

How when children in the back seat of a car wave at the ambulance we wave back.

How when we are in our own car we do, too.

But, God help you if you’re male and the parents catch you waving at their kids.

As one male paramedic summed it up: “You have to wave for long enough to make the kids smile. But short enough so that the parent’s don’t come chasing after you screaming PAEDOPHILE!”

But what happens when the risk outweighs the joy in seeing a child smile? — Baby Paramedic


51 Responses to A Man in Uniform (Is Trusted. Otherwise — Forget It)

  1. Paige July 16, 2010 at 1:28 am #

    Yep. My boyfriend is a paramedic too.

    At work: http://twitpic.com/25jjhd

    Not at work: Glares from every mother at the park for supervising his 2-year-old nephew on the playground equipment.

  2. Greg July 16, 2010 at 1:28 am #

    I’ve experienced the exact same thing – when I was in the Navy, if I was in uniform, I was cool. Kids were allowed to talk to me, people asked for help (even directions, when it was obvious I didn’t have a clue) etc. However, when out of uniform? I was just another person for the parents to counsel their kids to avoid. Very annoying. And it’s not like when out in civilian clothes I’d be scraggly – always long pants, a button up shirt, cleanshaven. Arrgh.

  3. Jason July 16, 2010 at 2:07 am #

    Not a uniform per se, but I commute on a motorcycle and wear a fair amount of protective gear that I assume kids love because at lights kids are constantly waving from the backseats of their mom’s vans or making a vroom-vroom motion to get me to rev my engine. I always wave back and, if the traffic isn’t to bad at the light, give them a blip of the throttle. Kids love it, mothers on the other hand invariably lock their car doors, which is hilarious. I wonder how they’d react knowing that this obviously dangerous hooligan with designs on their children is, in fact, the loving father of a baby girl and just thinks kids are cool?

  4. Raven July 16, 2010 at 3:32 am #

    James, I have the same thing happen to me and I’m a girl on a motorbike.. The mums can’t tell though once I’m dressed head to foot in leather with my crash helmet on! They just see the hooligan on the motorbike!

  5. Mike July 16, 2010 at 4:02 am #

    More about dress, image, and motorcycles. A friend of mine was riding (below the speed limit) through a nice part of town. Came to a crosswalk where a young mother was crossing with her child. My friend stopped before the crosswalk, waiting for them to pass. In the next lane, a minivan was approaching, with a distracted soccer mom talking on a cell phone.

    The Mom grabbed her child and hustled past the bike, but showed no care for the (still moving, approaching) minivan. Objectively, the minivan was a far greater risk to her than the stopped bike. Why did she hurry past the bike, but walk blithely in front of the approaching car?

    Her world did not include motorcycles. Distracted cell phone soccer moms were part of her world. The Unknown (deliberate capitalization) was feared, even though it was a lesser threat.

    This ties into the current discussion. A man in uniform, whether military, paramedic, police or other, is assumed to be a “safe” authority figure. A man in regular clothes is The Unknown.

    We’ve all seen the statistics, stranger danger is almost nonexistent compared to injuries from relatives. But strangers are The Unknown and thus the greater perceived danger.

  6. Dan Brown July 16, 2010 at 4:29 am #

    Wow, how screwed up is that? Soon we’ll see pedophiles forsaking the birthday party clown industry (jk) for local police forces.

  7. Larry Harrison July 16, 2010 at 4:36 am #

    I am a hobbyist photographer, and I encounter this. I have gone to lakes to photograph ducks (shots like this: http://ic2.pbase.com/o6/09/494709/1/110471587.xhxzzkMX.20090321_133423_rj_b_d200_rz.jpg) and had parents say to me “don’t photograph my child, you pervert.”

    Well, first-off, legally, I CAN photograph their child as as “candid shot” (and have done it, though rarely), it’s called street photography. Wikipedia the name Henri Cartier-Bresson if you don’t believe me. But, besides that, 98% of the time, I’m not there to photograph a child anyway.

    My typical response to parents who do this: “don’t worry, I only take pictures of things that LOOK GOOD.” (In other words, who would want to photograph your ugly brat.)

    Works every time.

  8. Larry Harrison July 16, 2010 at 4:38 am #

    (PS–I apologize, the above link to my photograph, remove the “)” character if you click on it.)

    Or, for short: http://tinyurl.com/28gkjo9

  9. BrianJ July 16, 2010 at 4:54 am #

    An different version of this conversation was on my mind this morning as I reflected on the trial of Johanes Mehserle (who was a police officer until he shot and killed Oscar Grant, a young black man who was face down, handcuffed and unarmed, in Oakland on 1/1/2010).

    I wonder what to tell my son, who is African American, about how to deal with police officers.

    Any thoughts?

  10. baconpirates July 16, 2010 at 5:08 am #

    The idea of the Nurturing Male is popular, but when push comes to shove, too many people distrust men with children.

    My husband isn’t even copied on correspondence from his own child’s school. We filed formal complaints with the school district a year ago, and even though he was promised copies of all communication, he still hasn’t seen his son’s Second and Third Semester report cards.

    Fathers get a raw deal in our society.

  11. Nok July 16, 2010 at 5:46 am #

    It may not be because he is male. You mentioned, “His own child”. I could be wrong, but that seems to indicate that is his not the primary physical custodian of a child from a previous relationship.

    In my case before I got physical custody of my oldest, I still had joint custody for visitation and equal rights in decision making, just not physical custody to determine school district. The school viewed this (with help from my X) as I had no parental rights or at least limited ones. So I was informed that it was not “school policy” to give information to the non-custodial parent.

    Even threatening to sue did nothing.

    Of course later they were very apologetic when we arrived to gather my son’s things and move him to another state because my X had been put in jail for beating him.

  12. Clark Cox July 16, 2010 at 5:54 am #


    Unfortunately, the advice that I plan to give my children when they’re a little older (they’re only 2 and 3 now, and at this age, I want them to implicitly trust all adults) is: “Don’t talk to Police”. Unless you’re reporting a crime, nothing can be gained by interacting with police; just don’t do it:


  13. BrianJ July 16, 2010 at 6:01 am #

    @Clark – legally speaking you are correct. But I live in a community where the police are trusted and valued members (Piedmont CA). But we also live in a wider world where some police see young black men as inherently dangerous. He shouldn’t *have* to avoid interactions with officers, he shouldn’t *have* to fear interacting with them.

    I don’t want to fill him with fear and apprehension. I do want him to survive (physically and legally) any interaction with police officers he will have in the future.

  14. Kimberly July 16, 2010 at 6:15 am #

    My nephew (2 almost 3) loves motorbikes. My sister encourages him waving at them and doesn’t lock her doors. Now if they are walking she will grab nephew – because he is still learning not to climb on other people’s things. She doesn’t want him to damage your bike by hugging it and knocking it over.

    About hand signals. My grade level took the kids to a museum in Houston, which meant a trip down the Southwest freeway. Lots of 18 wheelers. The kids were trying to get them to toot their horns (3 bus loads of kids). Most did but a couple didn’t. One of the Moms complained about a truck not tooting his horn or waving as he passed by the busses. I looked up and laughed as I saw the truck.

    I told her that technically they weren’t supposed to sound their horns, but most wouldn’t get in trouble. If that truck did I guarantee multiple concerned citizens would be calling Miller, the local distributor, and/or the TABC complaining about the trucker/salesman enticing the kids.

    How I know that – My Dad used to field calls complaining about My Dad. We borrowed vans from work on occasion to move things, and Sis and I would help him. People would complain about seeing us get out of the van.

    The Funniest were the series of complaints after a rodeo parade. Dad and 4 or 5 other guys from his company were in charge of a sound truck (Shaped like a 6 pack of beer) for the parade. Well if you were going to a parade wouldn’t you take your kids? So there were 10 – 15 kids. We were allowed to wander a certain radius from the truck and buy stuff from the vendors. We also got to sit on the roof of the truck and watch the parade.The complaints were

    1. That no kids should have been around the truck
    2. That they wouldn’t let random kids climb up, you had to be an employee’s kid.
    3. That they weren’t selling beer. (Against Texas law you can’t sell beer to be general public from a vehicle. It must be a structure of some kind.

  15. Clark Cox July 16, 2010 at 6:36 am #


    Indeed, he shouldn’t *have* to avoid interacting with police, unfortunately he probably will need to avoid interacting with cops.

    “Don’t interact with police” is up there with “look both ways before crossing the street” or “always brush your teeth”. I don’t want my kids to be afraid of cars or cavities, I just want them to take reasonable steps to avoid bad situations.

  16. Kimberly July 16, 2010 at 7:04 am #

    @Nok – all it should take is giving the district the correct paperwork that says what your rights are. I have had several students that I maintained 2
    “Wednesday Folders” for. I would send one home Wednesday and the other home on a day the other parent had the student.

    The only thing I wouldn’t do is make copies of all the work, instead I print out a progress report each week for the 2nd folder. The progress report would list all activities and grades. My principal is very pro hands on – anti-worksheet so the number of copies we are allowed is very limited.

  17. Benjamin Bankruptcy July 16, 2010 at 8:02 am #

    When I was working in hospitals i was advised never to close the door when I was talking to a female patient or a child if you absolutely have to see them alone. Try to avoid seeing children alone unless it’s an emergency.

    It’s just find it illogical that we’re so freaked out by strange men when it’s familiar men that are the most like by orders of magnitude to perpetrate a crime.

    As for the motorcylists, I grew up down the road from the rebels motorcycle gang and while they are definitely violent criminals they do love kids.

  18. Uly July 16, 2010 at 8:45 am #

    This ties into the current discussion. A man in uniform, whether military, paramedic, police or other, is assumed to be a “safe” authority figure. A man in regular clothes is The Unknown.

    We’ve all seen the statistics, stranger danger is almost nonexistent compared to injuries from relatives. But strangers are The Unknown and thus the greater perceived danger.

    Very annoyingly, it’s widely known that if you DO want to cause harm, you should dress in some form of uniform so as to avoid suspicion. Everybody knows that one.

    If anybody really wanted to lead to the collapse of society, all they’d need is some fabric and thread.

    As far as talking to the cops goes, I must agree. I was raised with two core principles: Don’t Talk To The Cops and Don’t Let Cops Into Your House.

    Obviously, if you’re in a situation where you MUST talk to the police, you should endeavor to be polite and vaguely noncommittal.

  19. Kelly July 16, 2010 at 8:58 am #

    “mothers on the other hand invariably lock their car doors, which is hilarious.”

    Yeah. B.S. “invariably”. Or I guess I’m the only mother out there that lets bearded, scraggly bikers, panhandlers, etc talk to my kids and offer them money and/or candy (yes, this has Actually Happened).

    If right-acting men aren’t willing to take these “risks” a bit and stand up for themselves (knowing they are in no way doing anything inappropriate), they are leaving the kid, baby, and kid-care stuff to women and women’s concerns etc etc.

    It sucks they have to deal with these “risks” (most of the “risk” is getting stink-eye), it really does, and I have actual stories of men I’ve cared about being treated crummy (first-poster Paige is a friend of mine). I am not telling any individual man he is wrong to weigh and decide when not to employ the so-called “risk” of talking to children in any particular situation.

    Yet I wonder how many paramedics truly get wrongfully accused and endure some kind of hellish ordeal, and even if they do, if those (rare if any) cases are worth the social costs of men vacating the child-raising-village – costs of which there are many. Also there is a “risk” to not taking risks, as the fellow in the UK who did not intervene re: the toddler unsupervised (who later drowned) could likely attest.

    As a well-intentioned man I think the “risks” of talking to children are very, very small (unless you’re truly a pedarast and then you may get caught) – kind of like it is the position of this blog that the “risk” of letting my child go a few blocks to pick up milk at the store is small. Is the position of this blog such that we are really going to support men not taking these “risks” and only talk about the car-door-locking (female) ninnies and their foolishness?

    One purpose of this blog is to support those of us who take the “risk” of Taking Your Child To The Park and Dropping Them Off (many if not most of us female carers or mothers). Sorry, but I think we should ask some fellers to nut up or shut up on this one.

    My husband was at a party recently and a female child asked to use the bathroom. The male host asked his (beleaguered, running-around-hostessing-the-whole-party) female partner to take the kid three steps into the hallway to show the girl where the bathroom was. My husband said, “Hey Jim, your wife is busy. Why don’t you take Olivia to the bathroom?” and Jim responded with, “Oh at work, blah blah, I’m ‘not allowed’ to talk to female children alone”. My husband said, “Are you afraid you’re going to molest her? I’ll go with you if you need a buddy to keep you safe.”

    I speak out as much as anyone regarding ALL men being assumed to be predators (which is wrong), but I’m a little tired of all the abdication this ends up resulting in too and how it often paints women as being the primary authors in fear-based culture.

  20. Stuart July 16, 2010 at 9:10 am #


    Clark Cox’s advice is sound (both those Youtube videos should be compulsory viewing for everyone. I’m serious, go watch them now). I would also suggest one of the many ‘what to do if you are stopped by the cops’ videos out there.

    Your son (if he is black, which you infer, and forgive me if I’m wrong) is likely to be a target. The police do practice racial profiling (even if it is only subconscious – there’s plenty of research out there on bias on ‘random’ searches, etc.) so we are talking about a *real* risk, not an imaginary one (the corollary being that a white adult woman is invisible to police. They make for very successful petty criminals as a consequence). Being male, and being young are both risk factors for being harassed by the police. Human beings make (frequently incorrect) snap judgements about others, police are a subset of the human race, so they do it too – it’s just a fact of life.

    It is an unfortunate fact that the police are not your friends. Whilst we are raised to trust them, and we want to trust them, the cold fact of the matter is that we shouldn’t. The personal cost of doing so is far too high.

  21. Sarah July 16, 2010 at 9:23 am #

    I am just sad. One of the things that made me fall in love with my husband when we were just teenagers was the fact that when I was babysitting, he would pick me up and together we would bring the two kids I watched to our youth group. Watching him buckling in the baby and cooing to her just made me all warm and fuzzy. I admired that he taught sunday school.

    I love when there are Dad’s at our “mom” groups and at the park interacting with not just their own, but other children as well. One of my favorite sayings is, “it takes a whole village to raise a child.” I am mourning the village that I promised my children when I nursed them as babies. Men becoming afraid to speak to children and women becoming afraid of men speaking to their children frightens far more than the off chance my kids meet a stranger who will actually hurt them.

    I wonder what will happen when our children are grown and they have learned that they shouldn’t interact with any type of stranger and they should only interact with their loved ones through texting and facebook.

  22. Donna July 16, 2010 at 9:28 am #

    @BrianJ – You are correct; your son should not have to fear interactions with the police nor should he have to avoid interacting with them but such is life.

    As a public defender, I would suggest:
    (1)Interact with the police as little as possible. Don’t cross the road to avoid them or run away (that makes you look suspicious) but don’t seek to engage them either.
    (2) If you do need to speak with the police, be polite no matter how big of an a-hole they are being. They have the guns, tasers, clubs and the power of arrest and you have nothing. Being a jerk back will not achieve anything other than a night in a jail cell or worse. I have yet to have a client who was being perfectly polite get tased, although I’ve had a number who were showing their butt end up that way.
    (3) Learn when it’s worth the fight. Yeah it sucks to be stopped and asked for your ID for being black but sometimes conceding and moving on your way is the best way to avoid trouble. I have a case of a guy charged with felony obstruction right now (that is bogus) that would be charge-free if he had just told the cop his name and birthday when asked. Yes, he had a right not to and the cop was being a total jerk (and always is) but now he will spend 2 years in the court system to prove that.
    (4) Never consent to a search. This is worth the fight. Doesn’t matter that you have nothing, you don’t deserve to have them pawing through your stuff. But decline politely.
    (5) And, most importantly, unless you’re reporting a crime, if they ask you questions beyond casual conversation, say the magic words of “I want an attorney” and then SHUT UP – do not say another word. They are not your friends. They are not trying to get your statement to clear you. Nothing you say will ever help you.

    Truthfully, I wouldn’t give my child any different advice.

  23. Stuart July 16, 2010 at 10:18 am #


    You’d think a woman, of all people, would be able to understand what gender based harassment is like, and how insidious it is. Apparently not.

    As a man, if I told a woman to ‘nut up’ over being treated grossly unfairly because of her gender (by other men), what do you think the response would be to that?

    Don’t pretend sexism isn’t a problem, and doesn’t exist, just because it is women who are the perpetrators in this case.

  24. Kelly July 16, 2010 at 10:24 am #

    (“nut up” when used repeatedly by Woody Harrellson in Zombieland is hilarious, but it’s offensive if I do it here. Gotcha).

    I was loathe to post the comment because I thought maybe some would decide to not fully read my comment and respond knee-jerk. As you have.

    I did acknowledge in my comment and have, many times here at FRK, my own blog, and my various writings, the ridiculousness of our Stranger-Danger fear of Strange Men. It’s overblown and harmful to everyone (including children and women). My exact words in my last post: “It sucks [men] have to deal with these “risks” (most of the “risk” is getting stink-eye), it really does, and I have actual stories of men I’ve cared about being treated crummy (first-poster Paige is a friend of mine)”.

    Any response to my larger points regarding “risk-taking” and how kid-care and stewardship still falls upon women, or my husband’s response to the gender-harassment you name?

  25. Kelly July 16, 2010 at 10:35 am #

    Let me clarify my position, too, for anyone who actually wants to talk to me instead of a strawman man-hater:

    If any woman assumes a man, just by virtue of being a man, is a pedophile or abuser, she is engaging in sexism (even though men are more statistically likely to be abusers, most men are not).

    Anyway, if anyone wants to engage my comments rather than take me in bad-faith that I support sexist behaviors, please do so.

  26. Stuart July 16, 2010 at 3:37 pm #


    You aren’t Woody Harrellson, and it’s called ‘context’. Maybe it’s just a poor attempt at humour on your part.

    Some risks are worth it, some aren’t. It is risk versus reward – so there’s more to the calculation than just what might go wrong. If you want men to help you (as you state), then you need to make it worth the risk – and believe me, I’ve cleaned up enough vomit and excrement in the course of child rearing to know that isn’t going to be a trivial task.

    As a general rule, as stupid as I think the feminist doctrine of ‘all men are rapists’ (indisputably female authored, so credit where credit’s due) extending into ‘all men are (potential) paedophiles’, I see little reward sufficient to counterbalance the risk. I am very wary around other people’s children – that’s the practical reality of it. Would I let a child drown? These days (as horrible as it is to say this) I’d certainly consider the matter carefully before assisting. I’m happy to take risks for me and mine, I have an investment there – doing the same for strangers and possibly getting punished into the bargain? No chance.

    None of that is the way I’d like things to be, but I have to be both realistic and pragmatic about it. It’s going to be decades before (or rather if) we see the end of the demonisation of men – so I’m not expecting the pedo-panic to go away any time soon.

  27. Sue July 16, 2010 at 7:42 pm #

    When we lived in the city, the first thing I taught my kids was how to get home by themselves, should they lose track of me. The next thing I told them was “if you need help, stay away from the police, people in suits and security. Find a mother with children, go into a shop and speak to someone behind a till, find someone in a leather or look for the skater kids.”. Whilst stranger danger risk is small, I’m the parent of a child who, along with a friend, was the subject of an attempted abduction, on the one occasion I didn’t walk her home from school.

    On the other side of that coin, I’ve never had a problem with anyone talking to my kids, and have always encouraged them to converse with anyone who does. When they were teeny babies, I would let pretty much anyone that didn’t have “axe murderer” tattooed on their forehead hold them, since I think it’s good for them to see other people and it makes them more confident as toddlers and later. Stops them from being all clingy and helps them move towards that independance more easily. They’ve all been taught how to respond should someone they don’t know try to entice them away or physically take them, so I’ve never worried about it too much. The lessons have clearly sunk in as it was my daughter who foiled the abduction attempt by kicking the guy in the shin with her DM’s and then screaming her head off.

    Personally, whilst I’m always polite to police officers, I will never give them anything I’m not legally obliged to and I have taught my children that should they have contact with the police, they are to simply give them my name and tell them to call me, end of. They are well schooled in where they stand legally and that they shouldn’t give fingerprints, DNA, hair samples or anything else unless I am present and have told them it’s ok. It’s unfortunate, but most of the coppers on our streets today have little or no idea of the laws they are supposed to be enforcing. Indeed, I know more than most, because I’ve taken the trouble to find out. I’ve seen a WPC completely lose it and threaten to arrest me because I refused, after helping her with her inquiries, to give her my DOB. I believe that as a society, we’re being ‘groomed’, children more than anyone, to hand over our personal details without asking why, and it’s wrong. It’s a sad indicator of the society we live in these days that my kids actually have more to fear from our government than they do from anyone or anything else.

    On the subject of bikers – they rock. I spent most of my life from early teens to late 20’s hanging around with bikers and I have never, ever heard of one doing more to a child than causing it to get into trouble for the newly expanded vocabulary. When I would take my eldest to bike rallies, I NEVER worried about her, even if she was out of sight. As far as I’m concerned, a field full of 50,000 bikers is one of the safest places for any kid to be!

  28. HappyNat July 16, 2010 at 8:45 pm #

    My wife has a different reaction to men in uniforms as well . . .

  29. Claudia Conway July 16, 2010 at 9:13 pm #

    It’s a funny flipside to uniforms how some people are scared of people who look different – bikers, punks, goths etc.

    I’d sooner trust a guy with full sleeve tattoos and green dreadlocks than anyone ‘ordinary’ looking, as you’re not exactly going to be mired in a life of crime when you look so distinctive! And how often do you here the words ‘Police are hunting a suspect with a purple mohawk, wearing PVC trousers and a mesh top’?

    One reason I might not advise my child to go looking for someone in uniform, by the way, is the bloody difficulty of finding one anywhere. I think ‘look for a mum (or could be a dad, I’d say) with kids’ thing is a good one, and less potentially intimidating for a child … and certainly easier to find.

  30. Liz July 16, 2010 at 9:44 pm #

    While our little boy was in the hospital, we were visited by members of the local Harley group. They gave out teddy bears and bandanas to all the kids, and those who were able were encouraged to come downstairs to see the nice, shiny Harleys parked outside, to sit on one and/or have their picture taken if they wanted.

    They do this every month. We were only in the hospital 9 days, but it brought home to me how welcome such a break from the routine is. I am truly grateful for the joy they brought our little boy and the fun he had waving at them and picking a bike to sit on.

  31. Donna July 16, 2010 at 10:08 pm #

    “I’d sooner trust a guy with full sleeve tattoos and green dreadlocks than anyone ‘ordinary’ looking, as you’re not exactly going to be mired in a life of crime when you look so distinctive!”

    Easily 90% of my clients have tattoos. A large number of them have many tattoos and many have very visible and distinctive tattoos. They give them to each other in prison. Half my black clients, and a couple white ones, have dreads, none of them purposely green that I’ve noticed. Our 7 ft tall drug dealer is my current favorite on the really-should-have-thought -about-his-looks-before-committing-crimes list.

    I’m certainly not implying that distinctiveness = criminal. I’m simply saying that looking distinctive does not seem to limit ones criminal endeavors if so inclined in that direction.

  32. Alexis July 16, 2010 at 10:20 pm #

    It’s my experience that fathers are as equally invested in the idea of male stranger danger as mothers so I don’t know why this is being presented as a woman’s problem. It seems as though many of the above posters don’t encounter men caring alone for children in public spaces and don’t have these ‘affronts’ levied at them by men but they might want to ask dads they know how they would feel about a strange man waving at, or talking to, their child on playground.

    As far as interacting with police. I think it is a bad idea to teach your children to be afraid of police officers, especially when you value the members of your local police force. For a small child, I’d suggest that you teach them that if they are ever lost or in danger, they can go to a police officer for help. Later on, I think it’s most important to teach your child that if they interact with the police, they need to be polite (even if the officer is not) and follow orders (even if they seem unfair). Don’t ever run, don’t mouth off and please, don’t reach for anything without the officer asking you to do so. As far as not answering questions and not consenting to be searched; that’s a matter of personal discretion but I think that cooperation usually brings a swifter end to these interactions unless you happen to be, say, a parolee with contraband in which case, you’d be advised to be silent.

  33. Sue July 16, 2010 at 10:29 pm #


    Unfortunately, here in the UK, anti terrorism rules, and civil rights are being abused by the police. And a LOT don’t know the law. Like they’ll tell you they can delete pictures on your camera legally and they can’t. Or they can stop you taking pictures in a public place, when they can’t. Or that you HAVE to give them your details if they ask you a question, when you don’t. The only time it’s illegal to hand over name etc to a copper here is if you’re under suspicion of an arrestable offence. That’s a short list, it goes on and on. So, whilst my kids will be polite, I suspect they probably know the law better than a lot of the coppers out there, because I’ve taken care to make sure they do. I refuse to cooperate with corruption, ignorance and arrogance, and I’ve taught my kids to be the same. Polite, but non compliant. As long as our police force continue to be no more than a tax collection agency with batons and guns, I’ll continue to be so.

  34. Clark Cox July 16, 2010 at 11:01 pm #


    I have *never* been given a strange look by a male when I am out with my kids alone, however, it is inevitable that, given more than an hour or so out in public, I will frequently get scared and/or disgusted looks from women.

    “As far as interacting with police. I think it is a bad idea to teach your children to be afraid of police officers, especially when you value the members of your local police force.”

    Nobody’s claiming that kids should be scared of police officers, just that they should avoid interacting with them.

    “As far as not answering questions and not consenting to be searched; that’s a matter of personal discretion but I think that cooperation usually brings a swifter end to these interactions unless”

    That is merely a variant of the “If you have nothing to hide” argument. It is the duty of innocent people to defend their rights (especially against illegal search and seizure).

    I don’t expect small kids to stand up to cops, or overtly defy them, but I do expect them to answer any questions other than “what is your name?” with “I want my mommy” or “I want my daddy.”

  35. Claudia Conway July 16, 2010 at 11:08 pm #

    @Donna, I guess I’m thinking of a certain type… tattoos themselves are neither here nor there, but I guess I meant people with an overall quite flamboyantly unusual image, with lots of distinctive features together

  36. Donna July 16, 2010 at 11:17 pm #

    @ Sue – And your kids could spend a lot of time in jail fighting for those rights. I’m certainly not saying that that one should always comply with the police. But there are definitely times when compliance goes a long way to successfully ending an interaction with the police and noncompliance, even justified, escalates into arrest and/or injury. If refusing to provide, for example, a date of birth is worth an arrest, processing into jail, a year of court visits and a trial, where you may be convicted or not, by all means withhold.

    Personally, I prefer a more balanced approach. Know your rights but make an educated decision as to whether you are going to assert them. I teach my child to always ask – whether dealing with the police or someone else – is the fight worth the possible consequences? It is the same as picking your battles with your kids. While I will teach my child to never consent to a search (cops will plant things) and to absolutely, positively never, ever, ever waive their rights and agree to an interrogation, other things are left to their choice for them to decide if it is something that they want to fight (and risk arrest even if their fight is valid) or simply comply.

  37. Donna July 16, 2010 at 11:32 pm #

    @ Claudia – If they are of the criminal mind, they will commit crimes no matter how flamboyant. I’m just saying that dismissing someone as a noncriminal because of how outrageous he looks is as ridiculous as dismissing someone as noncriminal because he is dressed in an Armani suit.

    But why does it matter? Unless you are hanging out in high crime areas, the vast majority of people that you interact with are NOT criminals. It doesn’t matter if they are preppy or goth.

  38. Alexis July 17, 2010 at 12:57 am #


    This: “I have *never* been given a strange look by a male when I am out with my kids alone” has nothing to do with what I said. I said that other men would likely not want you, as a single man, unaccompanied by a woman or kids, to ‘talk to / wave at their children.

    “Nobody’s claiming that kids should be scared of police officers, just that they should avoid interacting with them.”
    Oh please. Sue’s advice to avoid police (and people in suits!) when lost and Stuart’s advice that it is a “cold fact” that police can’t be trusted is fearmongering.

    And as for, “That is merely a variant of the “If you have nothing to hide” argument. It is the duty of innocent people to defend their rights (especially against illegal search and seizure).” Thanks for telling me my duty. I’ll write that down. Read Donna’s post. She makes an abundance of sense. Cooperate now, litigate/complain later unless you think detention and/or arrest are acceptable risks to run in order to assert what you believe are your rights. If you don’t mind risking lock-up to protect what you perceive as your liberty, by all means; refuse to answer questions, refuse to produce ID, do whatever you see fit.

    I don’t expect small kids to stand up to cops, or overtly defy them, but I do expect them to answer any questions other than “what is your name?” with “I want my mommy” or “I want my daddy.”

    Officer: “Hi little boy. What’s your name?”
    Boy: “Clark.”
    Officer: “Clark, are your parents somewhere nearby?”
    Boy: “I want my daddy.”
    Officer: “How old are you, Clark?”
    Boy: “I want my daddy.”
    Officer: “I know, son. Is your daddy here? Or your Mom?”
    Boy: “I want my daddy.”
    Officer: “How did you get here?”
    Boy: “I want my daddy.”
    Officer: “Can you tell me where you live? Do you know your parents’ phone number?”
    Boy: “I want my daddy.
    Officer: “Okay. We’re going to find your daddy.”
    Officer: “Radio to Central. I have a small child named Clark here, unattended. No further information. Contact ACS. We’re going to transport the child to Family Services pending location of the parents.”
    Officer: “Come on Clark, we’re going to go for a ride.”

  39. Sue July 17, 2010 at 12:58 am #

    @ Donna

    If the police arrest my kids, here, for not giving a DOB when not under an arrestable offence, I’ll have them in court for wrongful arrest so fast their heads will spin. When my kids are old enough to do that themselves, fine – til then, it will be a pleasure to do it on their behalf!

    You don’t, you really don’t, give in to people who abuse, especially when what they’re abusing is supposedly there to protect.

  40. Alexis July 17, 2010 at 1:07 am #

    I also want to add that I think it would be a wonderful idea if all of the well-informed parents here who know the law so well would join their local police forces so that they can improve policing by example. Instead of talking about what they would do, they can talk about how they are changing law enforcement on a daily basis. What a wonderful example for kids.

  41. BrianJ July 17, 2010 at 1:56 am #

    @Stuart – you wrote “feminist doctrine of ‘all men are rapists’ (indisputably female authored, so credit where credit’s due)”

    I’m a feminist and I don’t think men are all rapists. I’m pretty sure that it’s not in the super secret feminist handbook either (or in the extra super secret one that they don’t let the male feminists read).

    And the fact that a woman wrote that sentence doesn’t mean that it is reasonable or represents any opinion other than her own at the time when she wrote it.

    I doubt stranger danger is a product of the feminist movement. Feminists, who by definition encourage breaking down of gender biases, do not profit from furthering such fear.

    Follow the money. Who profits from such nonsense: media companies looking for something to keep you glued to the TV, companies that sell security related stuff (including housing further away from “them”), politicians who are arranging cozy deals for their benefactors and need some shiny thing to keep us distracted, etc.

    Finally, I’m not sure that the phrase or sentiment you are looking for is in fact “all men are rapists” but rather “all men are potential rapists.” And in the proper context and from the proper perspective, that is a true statement. To a woman or girl, the “safe” men are indistinguishable from those who will do her harm, until she knows them. So she has to learn to trust her instinct. That instinct has to be developed. The only way it can be developed is to practice it by talking to male strangers.

  42. Clark Cox July 17, 2010 at 2:09 am #


    And what, in that concocted scenario, was my kid doing to warrant being questioned by the police?

    If he was actually in danger, then what could be better than being taken out of that danger?

    If he was breaking the law, well, then I’ll be notified, I’ll come and pick him up and/or hire an attorney.

    If he wasn’t doing anything illegal, and wasn’t in immediate danger, then that cop just kidnapped and/or wrongfully arrested my child, and I’ll be hiring an attorney.

    “I also want to add that I think it would be a wonderful idea if all of the well-informed parents here who know the law so well would join their local police forces so that they can improve policing by example. ”

    I have complaints about my trash collectors, that doesn’t mean I should become one to lead by example. Either do the job you were hired for (i.e. protecting citizens and upholding their rights) or quit. Just because there are cops out there who can’t do their job properly, doesn’t mean that I should become one.

  43. Donna July 17, 2010 at 5:11 am #

    “Read Donna’s post. She makes an abundance of sense. Cooperate now, litigate/complain later unless you think detention and/or arrest are acceptable risks to run in order to assert what you believe are your rights.”

    WHOA. That is not what I said at all. You DO have the right not to interact with the police (most of the time). I think you need to decide if a MINOR, albeit illegal, intrusion in your life is worth a battle with the police that may lead to an arrest or worse. Personally, a MINOR illegal intrusion into my life is not worth a fight to me. If I am stopped walking down the road and asked for an ID, I have no problem giving it. If asked my name and date of birth, again, no problem. I’m fully aware of the law and know that I don’t necessarily have to give that information (depends on the situation) but it’s easier to just give such nominal information rather than engaging the police. To me this is the same as my 4 year old wearing two different shoes. I could make her change but it just isn’t worth the 20 minute tantrum that will ensue.

    There are, however, some battles worth fighting to me. One is a search. I will never consent to one. End of story. Don’t care if I get arrested. The second is answer any questions beyond name, rank and serial number. If they start asking me what I’m doing, where I’m going, etc., the conversation is over. I will ask for an attorney. When they then tell me that I’m not in custody so not entitled to one, I will say that then I’ll be on my way. This is like my child trying to wear two different shoes to my wedding. I’m willing to withstand the 20 minute tantrum.

    Nor did I say that you will get arrested. You have every right to assert your rights. However, some police officers – certainly not all or most – interpret any dissent to be “obstruction.” It isn’t and you should ultimately win at trial but resolution could be a couple years down the road. There seems to be some belief by some on here that you can’t be arrested for refusing to give information to the police. That is so not true, even if your “rights” provide that you don’t have to give the information. I’ve had several clients arrested for failing to give information they didn’t need to give – one has been convicted for obstruction by a jury although his arrest was clearly wrongful. Police can arrest you for whatever they want if they can justify it and show probable cause (a very small burden) to a magistrate (who is a former cop and not a lawyer) to get a warrant. And it can take YEARS to sort it out. There is no false arrest suit while the charges are pending and they are very difficult to win anyway. Each person should make the determination as to whether the information requested is worth the risk of possible arrest and entanglement for years in the legal system even if you ultimately win.

    For now, my child will be taught to give her name and my contact information. She is not to give any further information. She is not to consent to a search. As she gets older, I will let her decide what questions to answer as long as she doesn’t ever agree to a search or an interrogation. If she ever hears the words “you have a right to remain silent,” she better aks for an attorney and then keep her mouth shut until I get there.

    And I don’t need to work for the police force. I’m a public defender so I already do a good bit to help make sure the police do their job correctly.

  44. Donna July 17, 2010 at 5:14 am #

    And I should have said that a magistrate isn’t necessarily a lawyer – some are and some aren’t. Our magistrate judge is a former cop.

  45. Angela July 17, 2010 at 11:35 am #

    Though my husband is not in uniform, we often see odd reactions of childrens parents towards him. He has long hair, doesn’t shave on the weekends, rides a motorcycle, and teaches 3rd grade. During the week he is dressed in school appropriate clothes and is clean shaven. He keeps his hair back in a ponytail. During the summer he doesn’t shave at all, and if his hair isn’t down it’s back in a bandana. And oh no! When the weather is nice you can see his tattoos.

    Kids love him. When students see him over the summer or on weekends they are always excited to say hi. And unless Mom (or Dad) has met him as their child’s teacher, they tend to freak out a little bit. Kids are smart though. They don’t see a “scary guy to be afraid of.” They see a guy who plays video games, watches cartoons, and eats frosted mini-wheats for breakfast, just like they do.

  46. SgtMom July 17, 2010 at 1:06 pm #

    I’m afraid “a man in uniform” is more trusted than an ordinary man because men in uniform have taken over the protective and authoratative roles ordinary men/fathers/husbands once had.

    When was the last time you heard a kid say “I’m gonna tell my Dad” as a threat?

    The fathers/husbands/dads that were once responsible for protection and authority are now subject to arrest, restraining orders and no custody rights – enforced by – you guessed it – MEN IN UNIFORMS.

    I was just reading where four women in Anaheim, CA are hiring a Limosine to enjoy a wonderful dinner in Brea after having successfully banished several sex offenders from their midst.

    No husbands or fathers were invited to the party. The police and Dr. Phil were all they needed to render these men homeless.

    I hate to be such a cynic – but I defy anyone to say it ain’t so!

  47. baby-paramedic July 18, 2010 at 4:23 pm #

    @ Paige, that is an awesome pic.
    Us paramedics over here would like to register our jealousy about the doors to the storage places being see-through. We have to remember what are in ours where! (Or label everything).

  48. Paige July 19, 2010 at 1:02 am #


    Wow, that sounds confusing! My boyfriend hunted down a picture of a NZ ambulance and it looks so different. Though he did say that over here some departments (including his own) are transitioning to at least a few solid-faced cabinets – drawers which can be pulled out to reveal more things more easily than a front-opened cabinet that requires reaching way back for this or that.

  49. Alexis July 19, 2010 at 10:50 am #

    @Donna. You can stop flattering yourself that I was summarizing your argument. I was not.

    @Clark Cox. Keep being part of the solution, buddy.

  50. Covered California March 6, 2013 at 8:49 am #

    I checked out this site and kind of love it


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