Thursday, August 15, 2013

Can Your Child Tell if Someone is Impersonating an Officer? Mine Can (Now).

We had a scary thing happen a few weeks ago.

The children were attending VBS (something I fought against for a while, but eventually did, and am glad we did). The church where they were going is so close, that in the winter, when there are no leaves, I can see it from our property. My 10 year old son wanted to walk there ahead of me and arrive independently. My initial reaction was to say "NO!" and keep him "safely" with me,


He's 10. (whimper!)

and I (largely) subscribe to a lot of the ideas behind "Free Range Parenting", one basic idea of which is that we need to equip and educate our children and give them freedom and independence. So I let him. We followed about 5 minutes behind in our van. He was so happy to be there before me, to come out a greet me and open my door like he'd been there for hours without me. :0)

When we were talking over the evening, he mentioned talking with a police officer. I asked questions and we talked more, and this is what I learned.

As he was waiting to cross the road, a man pulled over and asked him if he was ok and where he was headed. He backed away a bit and hesitated to answer, whereupon the man said "Your parents told you not to talk to strangers, huh? That's good, but you can talk to me, I'm a police officer."
Then my son told him where he lives and that he's walking to VBS "right there" (pointing) and that I'm right behind. The man said that he was just making sure everything was ok and drove away.

So far, ok.


After more questions, I learned that:
The man was in a construction truck.
That his "police light" was an orange bubble on top of his truck, and red and white LEDs around the windshield.
That he had no badge.
That he had a "long, scruffy goatee" (in our area, police officers are allowed NO beards whatsoever).

If he had simply pulled over to check that my son was ok, that would be fine and dandy. I don't teach my children to never talk to strangers. We'd never make friends that way! I do teach them not to give out personal information or go anywhere with strangers. And often (not always, obviously, but often), "stranger" adults are being friendly and helpful, and you can make some great friends.
(Even Jaycee Duggard says we shouldn't be overprotective!)
Once he lied and said he was a police officer in order to gain my son's trust?
Official "Creep" status has been bestowed.

Thankfully my son is just fine. I wanted to sleep in his bed with him that night just to hold him.
We have been talking a LOT now about what a real police officer looks like, does, says, has with him, etc..
I'm guessing none of my children will be fooled that way again!
We even had a very kind deputy come by, and show them what a real badge looks like, and talk about how around here a police man will never have a beard, and he will always have blue lights. He told them what an officer would likely say to them, how he will identify himself as Officer So-and-So, and (for the ones who can read) his ID will say the same last name. He reassured them that no officer will be offended at being asked to show his badge and ID, and that if they're still no feeling sure, they can call 911 and ask if there is an officer talking to a child wherever they are at the moment. (I didn't know that part!)
I had told them all of that (besides the 911 part), but it was definitely more impressive and memorable coming from a real live policeman! And they got to see a real badge, which any nutcase can get off of the internet, but if they know all of the other, maybe a Creep won't push his case with just a badge. Especially the 911 part!
My point, (besides shouting from the housetop that my son is HERE, safe and sound!!) is taht maybe you should have a (non-terrifying) talk with your children, telling them that while not all strangers are bad, there are some bad strangers; that some of those bad strangers may pretend to be a police officer so that they can get away with doing bad things; and that there are ways to tell if it's a real police officer.

(1) Blue Lights. No one but police can have blue lights. There are very few unmarked cars with NO blue lights. An officer will turn them on to reassure a child. Amber, white, or red lights don't count.

(2) He will have his badge, no officer ever "leaves it at home / the office". He will show his badge.

(3) He will not (in our area, anyway) have a beard. Possibly a very trimmed mustache, but no beard.

(4) 911 will have a record of an officer talking to a child at that location, and the officer should have no problem with the child calling to ask.

Of course, all of this is assuming the child isn't just using all this to get out of trouble (think 15 yo trespassing, etc)!


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