Representatives of the Massena Police Department had to make an odd request of parents and guardians in the community:
Please stop asking police officers to discipline your children! The department posted this statement Sept. 24 on its Facebook page:
“Please do not bring your children to our station wanting us to discipline them for something that you as a parent/guardian should be handling at home. We DO NOT place handcuffs on children; we DO NOT put children in our holding cell; and we DO NOT instill fear of the police in children. We want children to feel comfortable coming to a police officer when that child is in need or in danger. With that said, we will always welcome opportunities to partner with and assist parents/guardians on educating their children in a positive and caring environment only. It is unfortunate that we must make this post but necessary. Thank you for your understanding.”
Police Chief Jason M. Olson declined to elaborate further on the issue. So we don’t know to what extent these requests have been made of members of the Massena Police Department.
However, it’s obvious that they’ve been made enough times to warrant this public notice. And the department’s message is clear and on point:
It’s not the job of police officers to instill discipline into children. That’s the responsibility of parents and guardians.
The Police Department’s concern over the rapport that officers have with children is a legitimate one. It may be tempting for families to have authority figures compel young people to develop a greater sense of respect for “law and order,” particularly in how it’s observed in households.
But the department made an excellent point about the need for officers to be trusted by children. They need to believe they’ll be safe in approaching officers if they’re in some way at risk. Officers could be the only individuals that children can go to in certain situations, and the relationship they share must be positive.
Officers may have the best intentions if they attempt to intimidate children by putting handcuffs on them or placing them in jail cells. This could very well instill a deep enough sense of dread to alter a young person’s behavior. Yes, it has the potential of achieving the goal set out by a parent or guardian.
However, it also has the likelihood of making a child become afraid when in the presence of police officers. This could thwart a child’s instincts to seek help from an officer when problems occur.
“Having previously been in the law enforcement profession for more than 27 years, I can recall many experiences where parents or grandparents verbalized something about the police to their children or grandchildren in an attempt to instill fear in that child,” Massena Mayor Timothy J. Currier said in a story published Tuesday by the Watertown Daily Times. “We heard things, quite commonly, like, ‘You better behave or that police officer will take you away.’ And while I understand that in many cases parents and grandparents were not being malicious, but the suggestion could easily create fear and distrust toward the law enforcement.”
Parents and guardians should take the Police Department up on its invitation to offer recommendations about helping children be more respectful of authority and conducting themselves appropriately. This would improve conditions in the home as well as the community.