Today’s Investigative Special Report - September 26, 2012 “Dealing With Today’s Law Enforcement Specialized Investigations” “Is Law Enforcement Justified In Arresting Parents For Child Endangerment?”

By Lawrence W. Daly
Forensic Expert Senior Author
Are you responsible to know where your children are 24/7 and if you don’t how much supervision is required under the law? It seems logical and reasonable that children under the age of twelve need constant supervision, where maybe children twelve and above don’t. If you fail to supervise your child and you are investigated by law enforcement officials for child endangerment should you go to jail?
parents (Photo credit: Mystic Lens)
In La Porte, Texas, Tammy Cooper, a stay-at-home mother was arrested recently after one of her neighbors called the police and reported that Ms. Cooper’s children were riding their motorized scooters unsupervised, in an area where there were vehicles coming and going. Ms. Cooper was arrested and spent 18 hours in jail, before being released. She was initially charged with Child Endangerment, but those charges have since been dismissed.
Cooper has now filed a law suit naming her neighbor and the police officer who arrested her. Individuals and organizations are standing behind Cooper stating that children need freedom in order to have a positive child development.
In Manhattan, NY Tori Grady was charged with failure to exercise control of a minor. Her four year old son, Chase, was found by a superintendent of a building wondering around unsupervised. When police arrived they were unable to locate the child’s parents and he was taken to the police station.
Grady told police she allowed Chase to sleep on the couch, went to b
ed and was arrested and charged. Later, after neighbors started a petition to release Grady, the police acquiesced, dropped the criminal charges, and returned Chase to her.
Are the Cooper and Grady situations isolated incidences or are they a problem for law enforcement and Child Protective Services across America? The answer is not a simple one. Most cases of child endangerment deal with parental decisions to allow their children, no matter the age, to leave their home and play outside the home with whoever unsupervised.
The story about “When I was growing up I was allowed to play outside from dusk to dawn” may have worked years ago, but statistics provide us with a more reasonable and logical approach to this ever growing problem. Let us look at some of the considerations:
Years ago, the amount of traffic in residential areas was minimal compared to the vast amount of traffic which comes in and out of residential areas today. In the last ten years, just over 7,600 pedestrian were killed by motor vehicles while 29 were killed by cyclists. Over the same period, 364,000 pedestrians were injured by motor vehicles, almost 76,000 (or 21%) of them seriously while cyclists injured just over 2, 600 with roughly the same proportion (22%) being considered serious (Fitch, 2009).
Years ago, the amount of play areas were less likely to cause injury, i.e., some of the residences today have structured play areas which have playgrounds where a child could be injured or killed and these playgrounds, depending on the child’s age may require supervision. Some of these play areas have trampolines which are one of the most dangerous toys a child can play on. A study by Brown Medical School reported that trampoline injuries this decade have doubled compared to last decade. They reported that over ½ million kids were treated in emergency rooms for home trampoline-related injuries between 2000-2005, this according to Dr. Gwenn Schurgin O’Keefe, a pediatrician in the Boston area.
Years ago, the numbers of pedophiles living in a neighborhood were minimal compared to now which has never been so great. In many of the neighborhoods there can be anywhere from 10 to 700 pedophiles living in a community depending on the residential layout. Strangers perpetrated 39% of violent victimizations in 2010. The possibility of a stranger coming into a neighborhood where a child is playing increases the risk of the child becoming a victim. In Jan 23, 2012, there were 747,408 registered sex offenders in the United States, according to Reason.com, 2012.
English: Bullying on IRFE in March 5, 2007, th...
English: Bullying on IRFE in March 5, 2007, the first class day. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Years ago, there was a lack of education about the dangers a child faces when dealing with other children. Sexual bullying is a major concern now in society, which generally goes unreported. Sexual molestation and rape amongst peers is not uncommon. In a recent SAFE survey, teens in grades sixth through 10th grade are the most likely to be involved in activities related to bullying. About thirty percent of students in the United States are involved in bullying on a regular basis either as a victim, bully, or victim (Bully Statistics, n.d.). A Wiki.answer.com survey states 10% of children will be victims of bullying (2012).
Years ago, most parents did not have many concerns about their children playing outside their residences because depending on the residential layout homes were not located next to each other and children were easier to supervise. Today, homes are built closer together, and some parents have the belief that one of the parents will be monitoring the children as they play, so they don’t have to check-in on what their child is up to. Unfortunately, this belief is an incorrect belief. Most supervision is being conducted from the computer room. Most parents are either glued to the computer or television and rarely check on their children.
Years ago, parents would provide guidelines about what the child could do, could not do, and the times to check in and be home. Today, parents are flexible, in they have the belief that the child is knowledgeable and educated where they can make the decision when to come home or check-in.
Years ago, crime was being committed at a lower rate than it is today. Children are prime targets for aggressive and older children or adults and are more likely to become a victim of a crime. In 2009 the total number of childhood firearms accidents and gun related homicides was 389.
Years ago, children from one home generally consisted of brothers and sisters playing outside. Today, with one to two children per household, the likelihood that someone is watching over each other in a group of peers is unlikely. According to a Stanford University study the number of children has been under two per household for most American households (Williams, 2012).
Years ago, parents worked an eight hour shift and were home generally at the same time every day and one of the parents stayed at home to take care of the children. Today, parents either work at their homes, which keeps them pre-occupied, or both of the parents work long hours and the latch key children are free to do whatever they want. There are several studies about how many hours people work each week in the United States. It is estimated that most individuals work around 55-60 hours a week and online another 20 hours of fun work a week for a total of 75-80 hours. According to Jareb Collins, Yahoo! Contributor Network, in October of 2006 stated that, “Every day, as many as 77 percent of American youth are labeled by a special definition: Latchkey Kids.”
Years ago, communications between children was by picking up the house telephone and calling a friend to meet them at a specific location, where the parent was advised where they would be. Where today, children communicate by their smart phones and meeting at different locations can occur by the child receiving a text. The problem with this is sometimes children fail to advise their parents where they will be at. If the child needs parental assistance communicating or locating them may be difficult.
The outrage that has occurred in the Cooper and Gray case may be isolated incidences, but what about the situation where the child is abducted, raped, or murdered because the child was left to roam the streets. In the State of Washington approximately 20 years ago, a mother sleeping on her couch, allowed her seven year-old son play outside where he rode around the neighborhood. The child who was unsupervised rode the bike out of the neighborhood into an area where transients were known to be. The child ran into one of these transients and the child was castrated.
When society allows children to make decisions without constant supervision the likelihood that the child will be injured, harmed, murdered, or accidentally killed is greater. Most parents would argue that they can’t be with their child 24/7 and that when they were a child they were allowed freedom to explore and have fun. Falling down was part of growing up, but they made it through their childhood.
The statement, “That was then and this is now” is right on point. Imagine if something would have happened to the Cooper or Gray children. Many would argue that the parent was neglecting their responsibility as a parent. Parents need to make sure that the environment the child is to play in is allowed only after rules and boundaries are put in place in order to minimize the risks to the child.
There are no easy solutions to how one person may parent their child. In reference to the Cooper and Gray stories there will be individuals and organizations who are first to stand up and say the neighbor and police were over reaching and that what happened to these two mother’s was unfortunate. Both of these mother’s story had happy endings.
Should Cooper who is suing receive financial compensation for being the parent she wasn’t at that time and place, this author thinks not? As a former police officer, I responded too many times to residences where children were missing, abducted, raped by a neighbor, abused by a peer, and so forth. My question each time was when these things were happening to the child where the parent was and if the child had been properly supervised would this have happened? Before people jump to conclusions, think about the ‘what ifs’ and then if you must judge, and you have a child, think about ‘what if’ my child had been injured or killed because I had to stay inside and watch my favorite soap opera or surf on the Internet.
The outraged individuals who believe Cooper and Gray are victims of over-zealous neighbors and law enforcement officials need to think if these types of situations are over reaching, need to consider the above statistics. Each complaint of child endangerment needs to be investigated thoroughly and completely with a competent and intelligent investigation using common sense, reason, and logic. The decision to criminally charge someone for any criminal complaint needs to be taken seriously by all of the parties involved. The ultimate decision by law enforcement officials should and needs to come down to the safety of child at the moment of the lack of supervision and should the parent have provided the necessary supervision at all times.

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