Keeping Our Children Safe
Like everyone else, we here at the Ukiah Police Department (UPD) were shocked and dismayed over the senseless and horrific school shooting that occurred Friday in Newtown, Connecticut. Like Ukiah, Newtown is a small town of about 30,000 people.
We all feel an overwhelming grief about this event, and our thoughts and prayers go out to the people and families affected by this senseless violence.
In events like these, no matter where they are, our first instinct is to protect children from harm. Even if they are not our own children, we want to do everything we can to support and uplift those who are directly impacted by the tragedy.
I want to reassure everyone in Mendocino County that UPD and all local law enforcement agencies in our community (including the California Highway Patrol, Willits Police Department, Fort Bragg Police Department, Sheriff’s Office, and County Probation Officers) practice often to confront these types of events.
Between 2007 and 2010, we trained at Ukiah High School. In 2010 and 2011, we trained at the Ukiah Fairgrounds; and just last week, our officers trained at the closed Redwood Valley School. Our goal is to make sure we in law enforcement are as prepared as possible to respond to these horrific events.
Along with our officers, local schoolteachers and administrators also train regularly to prepare for this type of an event.
Without question, the most important thing you can teach your student in situations like these is to follow the directions of the teacher or school administrator.
When law enforcement responds to a school, officers will immediately prevent access to anyone until they can assure that the scene is safe and protected. Only then will law enforcement and school officials work to reunite children with their families.
As I said, because these scenes are confusing and chaotic, the best thing you can teach your child is to follow the directions of their teacher or school administrator Immediately without hesitation–no questions asked.
Closer to Home
Here in Ukiah earlier this month, a potential kidnapper approached a 7-year-old female Yokayo Elementary School student on her way home from school. This got me thinking about information all parents should know about keeping their kids safe.
In response to the attempted abduction, Ukiah Unified School District Superintendent Debra Kubin sent a letter home to parents with information about the incident and excellent tips for keeping children safe.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (www.missingkids.com) published a simple guide to help children understand the dangers of child abduction and staying safe:
- I CHECK FIRST with my parents, guardians, or other trusted adults before going anywhere, helping anyone, accepting anything, or getting into a car.
- I TAKE A FRIEND with me when going places or playing outside.
- I TELL people “NO” if they try to touch me or hurt me. It’s OK for me to stand up for myself.
- I TELL my trusted adult if anything makes me feel sad, scared, or confused.
Sometimes people want to trick or hurt others. No one has the right to do that to you.
The Most Likely Threat: People Your Child Knows
What people don’t realize about child abduction and exploitation is that the majority of cases involve an adult who is familiar to the child – not a stranger!
In general, we encourage children to be helpful and to respect authority (often represented by adults), so when a kidnapper asks a child to comply with a request—especially an adult the child knows—the child often feels like they should comply. This is especially true if the kidnapper knows the family and tells the child that something has happened to a family member.
Parents can setup a code word with their children. If any adult asks the child to go with them, they have to know the code word. Parents also need to be clear with their children that if they feel they are in danger, they should “break the rules” – do not stay quiet and behave appropriately. Rather, make a huge, loud, obnoxious scene and scream for help to get people’s attention. Have them practice once or twice screaming at the top of their lungs, “Help, this person is trying to take me.” Explain to children that this is the rare time that it is okay to go completely crazy in public.
While most people who coach youth sports do so because they love kids and they love sports, some use it as a way to gain access to children to exploit them. Children need to know that behaviors that make them feel embarrassed or uncomfortable are not okay.
The sad truth is that adults who victimize children often count on the children’s shame or fear that they won’t be believed to keep them quiet. Be sure your kids know that you have their back. If your child is involved in sports, take note of the following questions:
- Do coaches and assistants submit to background checks?
- Are multiple adults supervising the children or just the coach alone?
- If children have to change clothes to play the sport, is there more than one adult present in the locker room at all times?
- Are any children getting special attention?
- Would my child know what to do if faced with an inappropriate or uncomfortable situation?
Staying Home Alone
Another time children can be at risk is when they stay home alone. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children as young as nine or ten years old may be left home alone for brief periods if the child is comfortable with it. To keep your child safe while at home alone, here are some tips.
- Make sure your child knows how to reach you or a trusted adult (write the phone numbers down and put them next to the phone).
- Review possible scenarios your child could face and explain how to handle them (e.g., what to do if the phone rings or the electricity goes out).
- Explain how to call 911 and write down what information they would likely need to share: full name, address, etc.
General Rules of Thumb
In addition to the recommendations listed by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, here are some general rules of thumb kids should follow to stay safe:
- Don’t talk to strangers.
- Be aware of your surroundings (e.g., don’t focus your attention on your cell phone while walking home from school).
- Stick together. There’s safety in numbers.
- Practice basic self-defense. A swift kick to shins or private parts along with a loud scream that this person isn’t a mom or dad should get the attention of people in the area.
- Lock doors, especially if home alone.
To help you determine what types of crimes are occurring within your neighborhood, or near your child’s school, you can find an interactive map at the Ukiah Police Department (UPD) website (www.ukiahpolice.com). This map is located under the “Live Crime Map” tab, and will allow you to find out detailed information about crime activity near your home or school.
If you’d like to be notified about crimes that occur near a specific location, you can sign up through the interactive map. We have also posted several useful links you can use to obtain more information on keeping kids safe under the “Missing, Exploited and Child Safety Resources” tab.
As always, our mission at UPD is simple: to make Ukiah as safe as possible. If you have any suggestions or comments about how we can improve, please feel free to call me, complete our online survey, or leave a crime tip on our website: www.ukiahpolice.com.