This fall, just as Keith Kaplan was finishing up his first term as a Teaneck, NJ, Town Councilman, he proposed a Reasonable Childhood Independence bill. It states that when parents allow kids to perform age-old independent activities, like walking or playing outside, they are not guilty of “neglect” unless the kids are in obvious, serious and likely danger.
For Kaplan, the bill is especially important. That’s because of an incident he witnessed involving his friends, their daughter, and the police.
On Dec. 31, 2020, Kaplan received a text from friends who lived a few blocks away. They wanted to know if kids were allowed to be outside alone with parental permission. The police, it seemed, were at their house. Kaplan headed over, too.
“I’D LIKE TO REPORT A CHILD OUTSIDE IN THE COLD”
His friends had allowed their daughter, almost 7, to take a walk around the neighborhood. A retired police officer had seen her and called the cops to report a child outside by herself in the cold.
The responding officer easily located the girl who was “dressed appropriately,” according to his report. He asked for her address, which she gave him. It was a few blocks away, and the cop proceeded to walk her home.
When they arrived, the girl introduced the officer to her mother and father, according to Kaplan. But the officer refused to release her unless her parents presented their identification. When they declined to do so — arguing they hadn’t done anything wrong — he called for backup.
AND THEN…THE HANDCUFFS
When Kaplan arrived at his friends’ home, he started filming the encounter. By now, the girl was crying. Then her father did “what any dad would — he went to hug his crying kid,” says Kaplan. “And at that point he was arrested. With handcuffs. Three cops took the dad down to the ground and put him in the car in front of his daughter and wife.”
The dad was taken away and charged with N.J.S. 2C:29-1A, Obstruction of Justice — a “disorderly persons” offense, because he hadn’t obeyed the cop who told him not to go to his daughter.
Later, in his cell, he was interviewed by a woman from child protective services. She determined he was not a threat to anyone, and he was released and given a court date. The court found him guilty, and he was fined $133.
THE AFORE-MENTIONED HAPPY ENDING
Kaplan had already been a champion of childhood independence. While the family wished to remain anonymous, Kaplan drafted the bill in response to the incident. Kaplan’s Childhood Independence bill represents his efforts to stop treating every child as if they’re in constant danger, and every adult as if they’re a potential predator.