Making Danger Out Of Strangers
Childhood on lock-down: Police in middle schools and "stranger danger."
"My daughter hasn't come home from school," my friend told me on the phone last week, a note of panic in her voice.
Our 9-year-olds go to school and play together. We both deplore the fact that kids today don't enjoy the freedom to wander that we did.
But neither of us was extolling the virtues of "free-range parenting" at that moment.
The daughter, it turned out, had stopped longer than usual at a friend's house on her way home. She was fine.
Recent incidents of strangers approaching kids in Howard County underscore the fact: we're afraid of harm befalling our kids when they're out of our sight.
Yet the greatest threat to children comes not from "stranger danger" but from the people closest to them.
While the rate of violent crime against younger kids is harder to pin down, incidences of violent crime against adolescents has decreased since 1975, according to this information from Child Trends, an "independent, nonpartisan research center dedicated to improving the lives of children and their families," according to its website.
But you'd never know that from the way we keep our kids under house arrest. Sensational coverage of crime, especially crime against kids, has given rise to exaggerated fear.
My 12-year-old attends one of the six Howard County middle schools taking part in the "Passages" program. As Elkridge Patch reported, it's a community policing initiative that stations county police officers in selected middle schools.
I'm all for more county resources going into the middle schools they selected. Certainly police are great role models for kids.
But this isn't Officer Friendly* taking part in a career development program. This sounds a lot more like extra police at the village center to prevent loitering or shoplifting.
* Howard County had a police officer named, I swear, Officer Friendly, who visited county high schools in the late 1980s and told us to say no to drugs. Does anyone else remember this?
According to this Huffington Post article, a study of Chicago schools found that having police in schools led to increased arrests of juveniles for behavior that, 20 or 30 years ago, wouldn't have been considered criminal.
The study found that police were stationed primarily in areas with black students, so guess which kids were arrested?
The study's authors talk about a "school-to-prison pipeline" that comes from criminalizing student (mis)behavior and bringing in law enforcement to discipline trouble-makers instead of adding educators and counselors to guide them.
But exaggerated media coverage of school violence - like "stranger danger" coverage - scares people. Never mind that kids are in more danger in their own homes than they are at school.
Giving our middle schoolers after-school activities that don't depend on the wealth and availability of their parents would be a great way to improve the safety of all our kids.
Instead, we're giving some of them "Passages" to jail.