Wednesday, May 2, 2007

School violence strikes Lincoln

Monday, it took three officers to deal with a disturbance at a Lincoln Public School. The incident started in a classroom. The culprit was taken to the school office. Shortly after arrival, he became aggressive and physical. The suspect tried to escape by crawling through a window in the office. The principal and two other staff members tried to physically restrain him. When the first officer arrived, he put a bear hug on the struggling suspect and was head butted. It took a couple more officers to get things under control. In the end, three staff members and one police officer were assaulted.

Here's the surprising part (to you, that is, not to the police): it wasn't a 17 or 18 year old at a high school. It was a 9 year old elementary school student.

I did a quick search looking for police dispatches to Lincoln elementary schools so far in 2007 which contained the key phrase "out of control" in the first 80 characters of the remarks field that is keystroked by the 911 call-taker in the Communications Center. My search returned 37 cases. It would have been more, if I had been a little more creative with the search terms. Here are some typical excerpts (I spelled out a few abbreviations, though--call-takers have their own unique shorthand):

"1st grade student out of control causing property damage"
"2nd grader out of control throwing chairs"
"9 year old out of control and escalating, destroyed a room"
"5th grader assaulting staff right now"
"7 year old male being restrained by staff and parents"
"3rd grade female out of control kicking, hitting, screaming"
"8 year old out of control, being restrained"
"9 year old contained in room she has torn apart"

...and my favorite:

"7 year old refusing to come in from playground"

This probably speaks volumes about the emotional problems of children in our society and the difficulties teachers face. But it also illuminates an interesting phenomenon that impacts the police. What do we do when a nasty 2nd grader won't come in from the playground? Call the cops, of course.

I realize that a 9, 10, 11, or 12 year old can be quite a handful. I also realize that emergencies happen--that's one of the reasons we are here in the first place. I know that school personnel try other interventions before resorting to 911. But something seems wrong to me when the contingency plan for dealing with a child with Oppositional-Defiant Disorder ends with "call the police."

I have discussed this on several past occasions with administrators and principals--including meeting with all the principals as a group. "What," I asked, "would you have us do when we arrive at the scene of a 6 year old who has shinnied up a pole and is sitting on a wall refusing to come down? Use the OC spray, the Taser, or the nightstick?" (I don't make these things up). The responses during this discussion were interesting, and here's my summary.

1. "We call you because your presence will intimidate the little one into complying. "

2. "We don't have the training or the trained staff to grapple with misbehaving children."

3. "We call you because if we touch the child, the parents will be mad at us."

My response:

1. Therapeutically instilling fear of the police in a 6 year old is a fine idea. It will help us a lot by the time he's 15. (I'm trusting the readers of this blog to understand that I am being facetious: it will make him that much more difficult for us to deal with in the future.)

2. If you serve over 30,000 children, a small percentage of whom have serious behavior problems or disorders, I guess you ought to have the appropriate skills in your organization to do so effectively. Maybe an LPS behavioral "SWAT Team" of specially-trained staff would be good--like a van-load of social workers and a psychologist or two.

3. Thanks. We'd much rather mom and dad be mad at the police.

Actually, if you've called the police because you are worried that the parent who has already been summoned to the scene will fly off the handle when he or she arrives, just like the child has, I can understand that.

Some officers (and some citizens) think we should just stop responding to these calls involving little kids at school. I don't think that's a viable option. We don't know exactly what's going on, and the minute we tell the slightly-frantic secretary making the 911 call that we won't be coming, something Really Bad will happen. We all know whose fault that will be.

The job of teachers, para educators, and principals is tough. I think very highly of them. I do not envy them. I understand why they call the police in these circumstances: they have a significant problem, and it is an expedient that works--we will come, and we will do something. I have no easy solution. This isn't about the workload and I'm not complaining about the calls--we're here to deal with life's curve balls.

It just seems that there ought to be a better way of dealing with an out of control 2nd grader with a behavioral disorder than having a police officer bristling with handcuffs, pistol, chemical weapon, baton, Taser and body armor bring his or her arrest authority to the proceedings.


Allen said...

Chief, I think LPS is halfway to the answer already.

They already call them "Para Educators." All they need to do now is strap 'chutes on their backs, arm them with the industrial, Sam's Club-sized bag of animal crackers, and LPS attorneys (Heretofore known as the Legal Screamin' Eagles) on speed dial.

Chopper 'em in to the hot zone and drop 'em in.

They could even have their own song (Sorry Sgt. Sadler)

"Fighting teachers from the sky.
Fearless folks, who'll jump and die.
Those who teach for too low pay
The brave folks of the second grade

Silver chalk upon their chest
These teachers, America's best
One hundred students test today
But only three pass the second grade"

Anonymous said...

My son has been identified as having Oppositional defiant disorder. In our case the odd part is he is not violent, does not show anger in healthy or unhealthy ways. Does not yell, slam doors, break things. He is accepting of no for an answer and is perfect content to be on home restriction for nearly the past year. Every time he got free time he would be brought home by the police. No he is none of the majority of the children that have Oppositional defiant disorder. Rather in fact
" He is a quiet man" now that is scary. I cant help but wonder was the VA tech shooter a passive person as a youngster, or did he act out? I cant help but wonder if there, in some sort of out side the box thinking way, are these kids the Chief writes about doing what is normal, status quo behavior of children with Oppositional defiant disorder? Dont get me wrong. This is an extremely sensitive situation. What if a passer by would think the officer is being to tough i.e a witness may see a restraint being applied by an officer. That witness may question and exclaim
" The officer didn't have to be so rough with that little boy-girl. Then the officer gets wrongly accused of improper use of force because of a well meaning witness.
On one final note. I want to thank the Lincoln Police, The juvenile court probation officer, The Judge, The security officer at the store that caught My son shoplifting. The social worker from the state and the Office Of Juvenile Services for all helping to get my son help. My son is getting the help he needs and might not be an adult criminal because of all of you.

Anonymous said...

I cannot believe the behavior of children these days. I was either shaking in my shoes or crying when I was called to the principle's office. I knew that fighting would not help the situation or solve the problem. I would say my parents taught me the proper values and they taught me to take responsibility for my actions. Maybe the Lincoln schools can learn from the Milwaukee public schools by implementing flexible restraints.

Anonymous said...

it's high time for some parents to actually be parents, but i'm afraid it's only going to get worse. they usually are first to blame teachers, the police, society in general, etc etc, when, in most cases, looking in a mirror is all they'd need to do to see the actual cause of it.

Need Discipline said...

I understand the difficulties the police department faces in these calls to out of control children. I work in mental health with these children and sometimes I wonder where the line should be drawn between "behavioral problems" and "Mental Health" problems.

It is unfortunate that the police don't have many options for these children at school. You either go to the youth detention center who don't accept these kids with mental problems and the hospital.

Its amazing the kids that come to the hospital who are labeled with these terrible mental disorders because they have no discipline at home. Don't get me wrong, there are children who are terribly sick. But, many of these kids need some parenting. Parent's in this town need to step up and take care of what they created. It isn't our responsibility to take care of the kid who won't come in from the playground. If I would have done that when I was young, I would have just gotten a good spankin when I got home. I knew better then to talk to my peers the way these kids are and to not listen to my elders. IT is time for the parents in the town of Lincoln to have some order in their homes. I am tired of doing your dirty work.

Anonymous said...

Chief, I was wondering if the motto for the LPD was to serve and protect? Then why should our teachers be excempt from that service? Our teachers go to school to educate our children NOT to become a member of a behavioral swat team. I think it would be like asking your officers to come to the school and teach without the proper education. I would challenge anyone to spend a day at school in a behavioral classroom and see how hard these teachers and support staff work. Why should a teacher or support staff have to fear for his/her life? For those people that think LPD shouldn't respond to those calls what do they suggest? And remember these are probably the people that also vote to cut taxes for mental health services. So in closing I would ask that you live up to the motto protect and serve. That means we respond to all calls.

foxspit said...

So in addition to having to making sure our children's test scores stay at a certain level so "no child is left behind," our elementary teachers must now add security guard to their list of duties?

I think we ask more than enough of our teachers for what we are willing to pay them.

I also don't think it's out of line for them to seek the help of trained professionals when dealing with potentially (or actual) violent students.

And we can all say "It's time for parents to step up to the plate" until we're blue in the face. If you could see the way some of these parents behave, it's amazing the kids aren't messed up more than they already are.

I don't have an answer, but I don't buy the logic that police are being put upon by being called to schools to help them deal with problem children.

Tom Casady said...

I agree with the last two posts completely. I don't think it should be the responsiblity of teachers, either. Schools should not have to deal with this kind of behavior.

If I were a principal, I'd call the police. As I said, it is an expedient that works. I'm simply saying that it doesn't seem to be a good way to deal with the problem. I don't have a great idea on an alternative right now.

It's our job to protect people, and to intervene in crises. We will continue to do it. Read my post: "This isn't about the workload and I'm not complaining about the calls--we're here to deal with life's curve balls."

I'm simply saying that something seems wrong with our public policy or our institutions when the police are called upon to use physical force or intimidation to deal with a mentally ill or misbehaving six year old.

Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting issue and I can see both sides of this situation. I don't feel it is the responsibility of the teachers to have to put up with these kinds of issues, but I also don't think it is right that the police need to be called in every time a child is disruptive in the class and starts 'destroying the classroom'. In today's world, everybody is so sue happy that if a teacher were to have to physically restrain a child, no matter what age, there could be a lawsuit against that teach and LPS. The teachers do not get paid enough to have to worry about being sued because some child needed to be restrained in order to prevent him/her from hurting others or themselves. I believe this is why the police are called in.

On the other hand, there are other issues the police need to be available for rather than going to an elementary school to prevent a teacher from 'being sued' for using restraining methods to calm a child down. Discipline needs to come from the home, not the police or teachers, but there are so many children that don't have the luxury of having 2 parents, or even 1 parent that really cares about them. These children are left to fend for themselves and don't know any different. It appears these children don't know they are doing something wrong because they have never been taught, and it only escalates when they are not used to being dealt with since their parents don't deal with them.

I personally blame the parents for these issues and feel there needs to be some type of service that can be offered to the parents of the children that act out to this extreme. I'm in no position to offer up anything, as it is going to have to be something the city council, mayor, or governor needs to propose and let the voters decide if we are willing to pay for this assistance that apparently needs to be addressed.

Like Chief Casady indicated, “therapeutically instilling fear of the police in a 6 year old…it will make him that much more difficult for us to deal with in the future”. I agree with this statement 100%, these kids are just going to get so used to dealing with the police that they are not going to have any type of respect for them or any other authority, so it needs to start at home and at school. The people of the city need to understand that if their child is that disruptive that it causes teachers and police officers to get hurt, they need to start paying more attention to these kids and not automatically think they can make easy money off of this situation. I wonder if this is what the parents are actually hoping for. That is just something to ponder.

When I was little, a good spanking and yelling at worked. Why is it considered abuse these days? There is a difference between discipline and abuse, so if the teachers need to resort to discipline, then by all means do it. The proper authorities need to stop hiding behind the politics and back these teachers so that lawsuits are not the first consideration of the parents and the first fear of the teachers. It seems to me these kids need to be taken out of the school system and placed somewhere proper in order to be dealt with, going back to having a proposal introduced to have the voters decide.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous at 7:03 and foxspit, if someone picks a flower in your front yard and walks away and you call the police, you will get an officer. In Lincoln if you feel someone "looked at you mean" you will get an an officer. If you don't know what time it is and you call for an officer to tell you, one will show up at your doorstep. If your six year old won't clean her room you will get an officer. If the wind is blowing leaves from your neighbors tree into your yard, you will get an officer. We go to EVERYTHING without any consideration for common sense.

If our educators and support staff "fear for their lives" because a five year old is out of control they should probably reconsider their profession. Chief Casady is not talking about the 14 year old gang banger with a complete disregard for all societal norms. He is talking about young children with problems or disorders (whatever you wish to call it) that the school is aware of. If they are aware of it, why can't they (LPS) be prepared to handle these types of issues.

foxspit said...

Anonymous wrote:
If our educators and support staff "fear for their lives" because a five year old is out of control they should probably reconsider their profession.

You obviously don't teach for a living. Your implication here is that calls to police are frivolous and I don't believe that is the case, as a rule. Have you ever dealt with some of the "out of control 5 year olds" you refer to? Not as easy as you might think.

I think police are called when teachers and administrators have tried everything they can to deal with a problem student and when the safety of other students is being compromised.

You write that:

Chief Casady is not talking about the 14 year old gang banger with a complete disregard for all societal norms. He is talking about young children with problems or disorders (whatever you wish to call it) that the school is aware of. If they are aware of it, why can't they (LPS) be prepared to handle these types of issues.

How do you suggest the district handle children with disabilities and disorders, other than the way they are handling these students now?

Did I read the same article? said...

To Foxspit and several named anonymous: Where does it say in his article that the police shouldn't be called or won't respond? He simply seems to me to be addressing an issue which he himself says he doesn't have the answer to, but there ought to be a better way.
I see several posts that indicate that they, when younger, would have had a "good spanking" and at least been yelled at. I think at my house there might have been some belt applied as well, but you know what, that doesn't work anymore. The next day at school, the same teacher would be hearing about the treatment at home, and the same police would be called to work the child abuse.
It does seem obvious that we are just furthering the gap between youth and the police. That doesn't bode well for the future does it?
For those of you who don't like what Casady is saying, read it again. He's pointing out a problem that more people need to know exists. Not that he's right or wrong, or they should or shouldn't be involved, but it needs to be thought of and discussed.

Art Basso said...

We south of 38th and Van Dorn see daily the out of control, rude and arrogant students who have no respect for people or property. Only a handful compared to the many fine students at Southeast but they are there.

All I can say is thank you for Officer Holm. He's a gentleman, handles the students well (sometimes I think he should be tougher with some) but we feel very lucky to have and be able to appreciate him. He has our respect and he does what he can but he is not those kids' "mommies and daddies"!

My wife and I, along with our neighbors just cringe at the thoughyt of what the homelife must be for many of them.

Thank you Lincoln Police Department and especially we thank you for Officer Holm.


Anonymous said...

Well, I have to report that I have personally whitnessed 2 fist-fights in 1 week at my daughter's middles school.

Also, this week a high-school student brought a gun with loaded clip to school.

What's the scoop, is violence in the LPS system higher? It is very frightening sending our kids to school.