Monday, September 29, 2008

Call the police

I've blogged about the "call the cops" culture we seem to live in on prior occasions. Not all the examples are humorous. A troubling one has been gathering a lot of ink both locally and nationally of late. Nebraska's unique Safe Haven law has resulted in the predictable: some exasperated parents at their wits end are just leaving their non-infant and/or teenaged children at hospitals. The police, in turn, are called upon to take the child into temporary emergency custody, and make arrangements for a placement.

That is our job by law, and we accept it. Taking steps to protect children when no one else is around to do so is about as fundamental to our mission as you can get. It's the "no one else around" part that bothers me a little bit. I can't help but wonder whether a couple of hours down at HQ followed by a trip in the back seat of the patrol car is the best we can do.

I empathize with parents who feel so incapable of caring for a child that they would choose this route. I don't think you can generalize about them, because each situation differs. You can hardly fault someone who, seeing no other alternative, takes the short-cut to services or professional intervention that the law provides. I am rather amazed that legislators who drafted and passed this law are now so surprised at this result. Apparently they were unaware of the number of parents who are desperate. We weren't. Those of us in policing saw it coming well before the effective date. I'm surprised there haven't been more kids left at hospitals.

Last Thursday, Lincoln Journal Star reporter JoAnne Young emailed me. She said that the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services was suggesting that parents at the end of their rope call the police. She wanted to know what I thought of that. My reply was a bit longer, but I think this excerpt from her article is an accurate, if sanitized, summary:

Lincoln Police Chief Tom Casady said officers would provide enforcement and protection of either a child or parent as needed, and could take a child into protective emergency custody and call HHS for placement. But expecting the police to help parents cope with such problems as mental illness, financial stress, lack of resources, family dissolution, addiction or poor parenting skills “is a bit out of our league,” he said. “Calling the cops” is not the best contingency plan for serving families in crisis, Casady said.

We increasingly rely on the police to handle all manner of individual and societal ills. The Lincoln police department exists to provide the services that promote a safe and secure community, but it's a stretch when we are expected to be the solution for groups homes that are inadequately staffed, schools who are not properly prepared to handle children with serious behavioral issues, a mental health system that is woefully inadequate to meet the need, and a child protection system that has no field personnel after 5:00 PM.

These are complex issues that lack easy solutions. Our expertise lies in problems of crime and disorder, and protecting people and property through prevention activities and in emergency situations. We are ill-equipped to be the default response for every intractable social and personal problem.

We are called upon to provide services that are clearly more appropriate for others because we are here: in a moment of crisis, trained professionals will reliably answer the call and will actually send a caring, committed adult to the scene to do what he or she can to help--no matter how unpleasant or disconcerting the circumstances. You cannot count on that from every organization that has "helping families" in their mission statement. Voice mail, telephone answering services, and a cumbersome on-call system are more the order of the day. Not necessarily their fault: it takes money and commitment to make emergency services available around the clock.


Anonymous said...

This sounds just a little whiny, chief. You're out there anyway, I don't see the problem with helping out. Remember who pays the bill.

Anonymous said...

I can sympathize with a teenage girl having a baby and being scared and dropping off the infant to a hospital. That is what this law was written for. As far as the politicians that put this law together, it is no suprise that they would be so naive. They live in their rich little palaces and don't have a clue about the real world and the way people are now.
As far as dropping teens off under this law, I can't find any sympathy for these parents. I know parents with children that are mentally handicapped and at the end of their rope. There are many troubled kids that are being raised by their parents who aren't giving up. The problem with some of these issues is the "I want it now" mentality that our country has. The "I want to do what I want". Everyone is so selfish nowadays they don't want to take responsiblity to raise their kids. It's easy having a baby and raising it till it is 12. The challenges start at that age and if you haven't done a good job when the child was little, your gonna have problems.
Poverty should have nothing to do with this. My mother was a sister of a poor family with 6 sisters and 1 brother and they were dirt poor, yet all of them were happy because her mother was a mother and raised them properly and didn't give up when times were tough.
The cops are having to fill in as a ten minute parent to a lot of children and it just doesn't work.

Anonymous said...

To 6:43 am: Remember we are also paying the bill for DHHS, whose specific duty is Health & Human Services.

Regarding the post: I have a friend who is looking for help for their child with a mental illness. They have been to counselors and are at the point where the child needs more. They would like to get the child help before he gets into trouble with the police. They have looked into many programs such as Cedars. Unfortunately, since my friend is not on Medicaid - their child will not be accepted into the program. They are paying the bill for something only those not paying the bill can access.

Hope this opens your eyes a little6:43

Anonymous said...

"Helping out" would be acceptable. Being forced to take the responsibility for children who never should have been brought into this world is another. Let's also remember, most police officers are homeowners, so it's our tax dollars that are helping to pay the bill. So, in essence, we're paying a good portion of our own salary. That gives us the right to complain about the way the department is forced to spend them, based on the irresponsibility of citizens in raising their children, and similar irresponsibility in our elected lawmakers in recognizing the effects of poorly crafted laws.

Anonymous said...

I'm one of many that pitches in and "pays the bill", and I don't think it's "whiny" at all to call BS on one of the most poorly-thought-out pieces of legislation to ever cross a Nebraska Governor's desk (with no reservation from the person that could just as easily have vetoed it, I might add).

Instead of mirroring a working law from one of our several neighboring states, some clowns in our one-house funny farm had to reinvent the wheel - and buggered the whole thing up. Add in the fact that most members of the unicameral border on being gutless when it comes to a surge of panicky phone calls and e-mails, and they'll sign off on anything that stops the ringing and mailing. They were warned, but when re-election is foremost on one's mind, they're likely to take the easiest way out in order to deal with a freak-of-the-week issue.

By the way, I'd be interested in reading the Chief's entire mail to the shabby LJS, rather than their redacted and cherry-picked version. Like most Lincolnites, I'm far more interested in what the Police Chief has to say than I am in some scribbler's "interpretation" of what they thought he meant.

Anonymous said...

We have too much thrown at us as it is. Playing guidnace counselor for the family is too much. Most problems are parenting problems, not law enforcement problems. I think you are right on with the response Chief.

Anonymous said...

Is this a problem with the elected, the people we put in office? I have to wonder what impact TV and sports have on the youth and families of today. Is football coach behavior on TV anything to do with the condition of society or overall picture?

Tom Casady said...


For what it's worth, I thought the Journal Star's synopsis of my reply to the reporter's question was fair and accurate. I realize they can't publish it verbatim when the guy refuses to speak in two short sentences. Here's the full text of my email:

"We are pretty good at the initial safety part: protecting children from immediate harm by their parent, or protecting a parent from immediate harm inflicted by a child. But expecting the police to help parents cope with such problems as mental illness, financial stress, lack of resources, family dissolution, addiction, or poor parenting skills is a bit out of our league. If "calling the cops" is the best contingency plan we can come up with for serving families in crisis, like it often seems to be for serving individuals in mental health crisis, we've got a problem. Helping families in such situations fits pretty nicely into the mission statement of HHS:

To answer your question directly, we would enforce any laws in need of enforcement, protect any person in need of protection, prepare reports to be forwarded to HHS as required by law, and if the situation was such that it was necessary to take a child into temporary emergency custody, we would do that, then call HHS to make a placement and obtain any treatment needed, as required by N.R.S. 43-250, subsection (4).

Tom Casady
Chief of Police
Lincoln Police Department
575 S. 10th Street
Lincoln, NE 68508

Anonymous said...

Hey Chief, how about saying it in one sentence: The Police Department is not a social service agency or provider.

Anonymous said...

Personal responsibility???? We don't need no stinking responsibility...the government's my daddy!

Tom Casady said...


Because it's not true. Almostall the services we provide are social services (we exist to serve society). It's just that we are not the best provider for every social service, and I think most anyone who thinks about it would conclude likewise.

Anonymous said...

The woman is described as white, blond, 5 feet 4 inches tall and 140 pounds with a missing lateral incisor tooth, Casady said.


Anonymous said...

Anon 6:43.
I see nothing whiny about this. I am not an LMHP, I'm a police officer. I am aware I take calls where parents face a child with challenging behavioral problems. And on those same calls I often see a parent who want's me or the therapist to parent the child, not themself, nor do they seem to want to learn the skills to do so effectively. As a matter of fact, one parent was expecting a recent out of home placement for her child, where neighbors have expressed lack of supervision issues at the same household, and the parent was looking forward to
"not having to deal" with her child anymore. Dare I say "me too" in not having to get sent there for the same lack of parenting issues.

I'm not sure what your profession is, but is it appropriate for me to call you when my child won't go to their room like I told them to?

Tom Casady said...

jim j-

The Incident Report did not specify upper or lower. Let's do this: if you spot a tooth-less blond matching this general description in the company of a skinny white with extensive arm tattoos, write down a plate number for us. We'll sort our the exact tooth later. ;-)

Anonymous said...

I'm not a cop but I know of parents who tell their children "If you don't do ___ I'll call the police" Or "Send you to a home"
How about parents start giving consequences they can actually deliver on and quit making idle threats?
Teach your kids that when you say something, YOU can back it up. Quit showing kids that you need someone else's authority to do your JOB as a parent?

Anonymous said...

Lack of funding in the human service arena is omnipresent. We have a system that believes that if we keeping throwing services at adults, children and families, hoping something useful will stick, and when it does not we blame the individuals for being resistant. The blame and shame model does not work. Nor will the “safe haven” law without perimeters. The fact that children and teens are being dropped off is a symptom of what is currently happening in thousands of households. Families are reaching out for resources that are simply extended beyond their capacity. And, when the resources are available you have talented and well-intentioned individuals trying to help, and a system that ties their hands from being helpful.

Expecting police officers to be therapists is not the right answer. Unfortunately, for many folks in crisis it is one number that they know where they won’t be turned away. We should all be demanding a system that responds to the needs of those families, instead of waiting for the crisis.

ARRRRG!!!! said...

Please come get my step-child. I have done everything I can think of. His real father is no help.