My neighbor is a wonderful woman, a former California teacher of the year. Despite being well into her seventies, Donna continues to tutor children and has done more than her fair share of educating and caring for kids for nearly five decades. She is one of those people who does credit to the teaching profession.
Recently an acquaintance of hers stopped by to spend his Father's Day with Donna. Just why the man would be choosing to spend this day at her house, my neighbor didn't know. But as she didn't want to appear rude, she let him in.
Unfortunately, the man hadn't taken the time to diaper his daughter prior to making his unannounced drop in and the little girl ended up soiling herself and a good deal of my neighbor's living room, as well.
Did the father offer any expression of remorse or embarrassment? No. He simply cradled his daughter in his arms and presented her to my neighbor as one might a gift, butt up.
"She pooped," he said, before adding expectantly, "She needs cleaning."
"WELL, CLEAN HER!" Donna told him.
Donna had obviously had her fill.
Now, I know it's been said that it takes a village to raise a child, but I'd think long and hard before I'd abdicate that responsibility to the village.
Unfortunately, there are those who have no business parenting and so seek to have others proxy on their behalf.
Donna's visitor reminds me of those parents who seek to have cops clean up after their kids.
You know who they are. You pick their kids up for truancy or shoplifting or vandalism and the first word out of their mouth is an incredulous, "Again?!"
Sometimes, they're the ones initiating the call:
"Can you send a cop over here?"
"What's the problem?"
"My kid's talking back to me."
No shit. And why do you think that is, Dr. Spock?
I have had parents tell me to discipline their kids, yell at them, take them to jail, and lock them up. One asked to borrow my service revolver.
Often, we deal with these kids from an early age. Truancy. Smoking pot. Trespassing. They're on our radar and continually pushing the envelope.
To stem further encroachments, many agencies incorporate a variety of community support and intervention programs, many of which are casually dismissed as "Hug A Thug" programs by our less enamored brethren.
Nor do these programs necessarily fit my paradigm of what policing should be about. Still, I believe many of the men and women involved in them are sincere in their determination to improve these kids' chances, and as these programs exist, patrol cops should be exploiting them.
But if cops are going to be in the surrogate parenting business, it makes sense to intervene on their behalf as soon as possible, well before they've been indulged beyond the point of no return. Unfortunately, most of these programs are for older kids, those sociopaths who haven't yet been convicted of multiple murders and are therefore somehow deemed to be "on the cusp."
To this end, the next time you roll out on some call over some pubescent kid who got caught nailing the neighbor's dog with a paintball gun but isn't old enough to be taken into custody, take the time to talk with the parent. Assuming they are at all amenable to listening, consider making some off-handed public service message. B.S. 'em if you have to.
"You know, I had a neighbor who was having the same problem. You know what worked for them? Well, they..."
Then proceed to tell them how your neighbor spanked the kid's ass or got a copy of "Parenting for Idiots" and read it. Suggest that the next time they feel like Googling, Twittering, or PSPing, to visit some online parenting sites instead.
The fact is that, absent overt parenting wrongs, the court system is not able to do much with these kids during their formative years. And by the time these kids have firmly entrenched themselves on law enforcement's radar, there is little we can do to impact their development for the better. We can work with probation officers, dialogue with the courts, and assist with juvenile intervention programs, but by and large only at an age when the kid's personality is well established.
Compounding the problem are amnesties extended by the court system. Too many judges give juveniles probation in lieu of juvenile hall for fear of alienating minority constituents. In doing so, they abdicate their responsibility on multiple fronts-to the citizen who was victimized, to those who may yet be victimized, and to the perpetrator himself, who might otherwise have learned a valuable lesson and abstained from further acts of idiocy.
That's why you, as a patrol officer, are often the first step in helping get these kids off a bad path before they have more than a toe-hold on it. There are those parents who intuitively know where their kids are headed and just need a voice of objectivity to confirm the suspicion. Often, the patrol officer is that person.
They want help and they need help. I hope they get it.
Otherwise one day they may end up approaching you, their child cradled in their limbs, asking you to clean up a situation that can't be cleaned up.