Mothers and More recently hosted Det. Sgt. Brian Griffin of the Northborough Police Department to talk about children’s safety.
Griffin could not stress enough that we live in a very nice community, with very low crime rates. We do not hear reports of stabbings or shootings in Northborough. But we do live very close to places where violent crimes happen often, such as Boston or Worcester.
The misconception of “Stranger Danger”
We initially titled the meeting “Stranger Danger,” but Griffin pointed out that the use of the term is no longer encouraged by the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children. A majority of perpetrators are usually someone the parents or children know.
It is hard for children to have a good understanding of who a stranger is. One mother said that her three-year old thought that a stranger was someone with a mustache.
Griffin recommends explaining to children to “follow their gut." If something makes them sad, scared, or uncomfortable, they have to get out of the situation immediately and tell a trusted adult.
Under the “Stranger Danger” concept, a police officer would also be a stranger to a child. Therefore it is a good idea to teach children to approach someone with a badge if they are lost and need help. Some mothers shared that they told their children to seek out another mother with children if they were lost in a crowded place.
Never threaten your children with police. Do not tell them that “a policeman will come arrest you if you don’t start behaving." You are risking that your child would develop a fear of police officers and would not approach one when needed.
It is wise to establish open lines of communication with children from early age, so that they would be more likely to share with parents if anything bothers or scares them.
Practice safety skills with your children repeatedly, use teachable moments at parks or a mall. Teach them to be assertive. www.missingkids.com is a great resource.
Griffin recommended watching the Dateline “My Kid Would Never Do That” series where hidden cameras capture children as they make critical choices about stranger safety, driving while texting and under the influence and other issues.
Do teach your children how to dial 911. Don’t worry that your child will dial it accidentally. It is much more important that your child does know how to dial 911. Northborough police respond to 911 calls from kids playing with a phone about three times a week. It is a policy to respond to all 911 calls. It can be embarrassing to the parents. But do not get mad at your child if this happens. Do not make them scared of dialing 911 in the future. Explain the situation in a calm and serious tone.
Make sure to show your child which buttons he needs to press, especially if you use a cell phone, those can be tricky. Consider the situation if your cell phone is password protected. Will your child be able to make an emergency call? Land lines are worth keeping just for emergency reasons.
Detective Griffin explained that calls from a landline automatically display the caller address for the Northborough dispatcher. However, calls from a cell phone may go to a regional dispatcher and will not display a location. You have to teach your child the name of the town you live in, as this is one of the first things the regional dispatcher will ask in order to transfer the call to the local 911 dispatch. Cell phone calls can eventually be tracked to a specific location, but it takes time and is not that easy.
Have updated information on hand
A missing child is the worst call the police department could receive. Ninety-nine percent of the time children do turn up. However, when police officers interview the parents in order to file a missing person report, many of them scramble to come up with the necessary information.
You need to have an updated photo of your child, a hard copy, not just on your phone. Take your child’s fingerprints and a DNA swab. Know who your children hang out with, places they go if your kids are older. You would be surprised by how many parents do not know the names of their kids’ friends.
Be aware of your surroundings
You know your neighborhood and if you see something that does not seem right or looks suspicious do not hesitate to call the police. It will only take them a few minutes to come by and check out the suspicious activity. A lot of crimes are solved by vigilant people being aware of their surroundings.
When you take your children to a park, be present with them, keep your eyes open. Too many parents get absorbed with their smart phones and do not pay attention to what is going on with their children.
Jot down a license plate number of a suspicious vehicle. You can put a note on your phone, or even take a picture if you can do so discretely.
Teach your children to be aware of their surroundings, of anything that makes them uncomfortable or “gives them the creeps”. One mother shared that she practices with her children by pointing out different people and asking if they look like they belong and if they look suspicious. You don’t want to scare them, just make this a game.
There is a full-time police officer in Northborough assigned to schools.
All schools in Northborough are now equipped with buzzer systems and a video camera. Many schools practice not only fire drills, but also lock downs. Griffin explained that a lock down would not necessarily be only used because of a violent crime, but can be used if there is a custody issue over a child, and one of the parents is trying to take a child unlawfully.
The group discussed various safety measures that local schools undertake, especially during local elections when schools remain open. Griffin assured that there is always a police officer on site. Some mothers shared witnessing school personnel being vigilant during elections and directing people in and out of school.
Some mothers were concerned about a “community day” at one of the local schools and that not enough safety measures were in place.
Be a good witness
Do listen to what your child has to say; do not brush them off. If your child has been scared by someone, let a detective talk to them. It is usually easy for detectives to figure out what happened and if there really was a reason for concern. Sometimes it could be just a neighbor driving by and waving at your child, but on occasion it could be something more serious.
It is hard to interview young children. Griffin explained that it is very helpful if a child can recognize a make and model of a car, tell gender, race, and approximate age of a person, notice clothing, scars or tattoos. Of course remembering license plate number is most helpful. Make up a license plate game with your kids. For example you can use letters to make up words, or remember someone with these initials. Police department can do a lot with having just a partial license plate number.
Know who lives in your town
You have the right to have information on level 2 and level 3 sex offenders that live in your town. The town hall, police department, and fire station would usually have information posted. You can also submit a written request to the police department to get this information.
This information is also provided to local schools.
When it comes to middle school or high school age children, the problems are mostly related to alcohol, drugs and technology. Police department sees many issues with girls developing inappropriate relationships via texts and online.
Do control how and when your children use technology. Talk to them openly about dangers of talking to people online, about never giving out any personally identifiable information. Your 12-year old has a laptop in her bedroom? Maybe not such a good idea. The threat of inappropriate online relationships that may escalate into a crime outweighs any concerns for the twelve-year olds’ privacy.
Stay up to speed on the latest trends. Have you heard of Tumblr or Formspring? These on-line social venues pop-up all the time and trap the kids in.
And lastly, if the police department puts on a public event, such as drug awareness evening, make every effort to attend.
Assabet Valley Mothers and More Chapter 185 is part of national grassroots, volunteer-driven organization, connecting mothers via a network of both virtual and local communities throughout the United States. We offer our members monthly chapter meetings, kids activities, moms nights out, book club, movie club and other events.
To find out more about us visit www.mothersandmore.org or http://www.mothersandmoreassabetvalley.org/.