Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Rethink that

I've had this conversation with a few hundred parents across the years, and it has occurred twice in the past week.  The parent will be talking to me about some kind of situation their teenager was involved in (normally, getting arrested or ticketed for something like shoplifting or MIP).  The parent asserts that their child was just an innocent bystander, and that the police arrested/cited him or her despite the child's innocence. The police officer wouldn't even listen.

I generally read the parent a few excerpts from the investigative reports, which is decidedly different from the account offered by the son or daughter.  With depressing regularity, the initial reaction of the parent is that the officer is lying.  "What", I ask, "would the police officer gain by fabricating the report, or by embellishing the facts?"  The answer is pretty obvious: absolutely nothing.  In fact, she or he would most certainly face termination of employment if the facts were embellished or fabricated.  The teen, on the other hand, has a vested interest of immense proportions.

Nonetheless, the parental response, rather than being a rational assessment, is often this: "My child would not lie."  Really?  Like you never lied to your parents, or stretched the truth, or told the story in a way that made you sound a little less culpable, and a little more like a victim of circumstances who was just in the wrong place and the wrong time?  Really? Better rethink that.

Here's a news flash:  good people do bad things.  Young people are even more prone to do stupid things than adults, even when they are honor role students, standouts in the school orchestra, and members of the Church youth choir.  Human nature is to paint our own bad conduct in a manner that reflects less negatively upon ourselves. Parents need to remember that.  A good starting point is to remember what they did and said themselves when they were caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

Doesn't mean you shouldn't support them, help them, protect them, or love them as they learn the lessons of life in the school of hard knocks.


Steve said...

In my day, we feared what our parents would do to us more than what the law would do if we got caught doing something. It didn't always stop us, but I'll guarantee you our parents weren't likely to believe us before they would a police officer. It's not that they had no faith in us, but they realized the police were the good guys, not the enemy.

Anonymous said...

Looking back choosing friends is probably one of the most important decisions a person can make.

Gun Nut

Anonymous said...

Chief, I couldn't agree with you more.

Anonymous said...

What happened to the last comment? Or did I imagine that?!

Tom Casady said...


I thought it was mocking someone, and not me, so after about 10 seconds, I sent it to the timeout room. You must be very quick!

Cash said...

Kind of off topic but Gun Nut's comment made me think of this; have you ever done a blog post on differential association? I learned about it during my CJ undergrad and it's remarkable the number of places in life that it appears to apply. Seems like a guy from Overton came up with the theory so it's always stuck with me.

Tom Casady said...


Never blogged about it, but I had to endure a few semesters of various criminal justice and sociology classes in the 1970's, when Sutherland's theory was in vogue, along with Wolfgang's subcultural theory, Becker's labeling theory, and so forth. I always tended towards the classic rationale choice theory, until Felson & Cohen's routine activities theory came along and pretty much crystallized my thinking.

Steve said...

Theories are like ...

Well, everybody has one.

Some pass muster...others just pass gas.

Anonymous said...

Didn't mean to mock anyone...sometimes as parents we make decisions that make our children think we are mean. (From their perspective) I suppose I didn't need to add the HA HA...it really wasn't intended to be mocking or spiteful, I guess I should have signed it, a parent who cares for their child.

Oh, by the way, isn't that last comment mocking someones theory?

Anonymous said...

Tom-I'm impressed. We're the same age and went to the same school, yet all I can seem to remember is that the best dancing was at Little Bo's and Sweep Left was the first place in town to serve Miller Lite. I guess that's why you are where you are and I'm a salesman......

By the way, if you haven't seen it, the November Popular Science magazine has a great article on predictive policing in Santa Cruz. Sounds like they invented it but we all know better.


Anonymous said...

Your 12:53 comments led me to google some of the terms you used and click on your link THINKING. I have never taken any formal classes in Criminology but I have read a lot of the various textbooks and articles on the topic.

I do a lot of reading. I don't want to get involved in a religious discussion but I am always amazed when I read the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament. Our society may have access to high technology but the basic human problems have not changed in the past 3,000 years. Today we have drunk drivers but I imagine a few drunken Camel riders caused a lot of mayhem in Moses' time. Too much alcohol has been a problem for thousands of years. We still have thieves and murderers among us. You would think we would learn our lessons but it seems like each generation has to screw it up on their own.

Gun Nut

Tom Casady said...


Good. There was just that one little reference to someone's personal quirk in there that bothered me enough to remove the comment.

Oh, and I'm not mocking Edwin Sutherland, Marvin Wolfgang, or what's-his-first-name Becker. To some extent, I think all these theories of crime have some validity. But from my standpoint, the theory that I find most persuasive--and that leads to the clearest police intervention--is Routine Activities, from which the whole approach of situational crime prevention flows.


Trust me, I forget my keys and my reading glasses ten time a day.

I actually read that article. Believe it or not, I subscribe to Popular Science. The online edition, naturally. Good press relating to technology may be a function of effective PR as much as it is innovation. Good for Santa Cruz!

Tom Casady said...


Wow. I'm impressed. I never realized that a renowned criminologist from the University of Chicago was a central Nebraska native. Nothing quite like the Sandhills cranes at sunrise on the Platte at the Overton exit.