Unfortunately, the necessary evils of law enforcement sometimes include having to arrest a suspect whose children are present at the scene. While this is an understandably scary and disturbing thing for kids to experience, how officers approach the task can make a big difference in the young witnesses’ emotional health, as well as potentially affecting how they view police for the rest of their lives. That’s why the Buffalo Police Department in New York is launching a program focused on safeguarding the children of arrested parents.
Starting this summer, all Buffalo police officers will participate in a five-hour training program to learn how to minimize trauma for children while conducting arrests of parents. The department will implement new procedures for such situations, including arresting parents outside the presence of their children, ensuring childcare arrangements are made, and establishing a safe and friendly space for children to wait until a caregiver is located. The protocols are based on best practices established by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), but will be modified to meet the specific needs of the local community. Officers will also begin documenting how many arrests of suspects take place with their children on scene, since there’s currently no official data on the topic.
The innovative project is a partnership with the Osborne Association, which works to create opportunities for people affected by the criminal justice system and has observed that “one of the most trauma-inducing factors in the lives of children with incarcerated parents is being present when their parents were arrested,” said senior advisor Denise O’Donnell, a former U.S. attorney for Western New York who previously served as director of the BJA. The initiative is partially funded by AT&T and advised by a new consortium of agencies serving youth in Western New York, which will work to provide follow-up services for children and families.
The Buffalo P.D. sees the program as key to strengthening the bond between police and the community they serve. “It is going to build a better relationship with the children,” Deputy Police Commissioner Barbara Lark told WKBW news. “If we can do that early on, we can have a better relationship and a better outlook throughout our policing career.”
Lark can personally attest to the impact law enforcement can have on young lives, for better or worse. She told WGRZ news the story of a 3-year-old boy she once met at a community event. When she waved at him, expecting a friendly response, he said, “I don’t like police.” Taken aback, she asked the boy’s aunt about him and learned his father had been arrested. “This was the impact that the arrest had on that young boy, and I went to my car, and I got some coloring books and some police stickers, and I just refused to leave that situation like that because it just bothered me so much that this kid felt that way about police,” Lark remembered. “I gave him the coloring books and the stickers and I talked to him for a little while. When I left, he had a different attitude and a different opinion about police.”
Hopefully, the new child-sensitive practices will help the department create that effect on a wider scale, reducing negative encounters with police and strengthening community trust in law enforcement. The project hopes to serve as a model for other agencies, an example of the kind of reform everyone can get behind.