It's a bit different today.  When you
combine rapidly expanding categories of
politically correct issues along with a
virtual explosion in media technology, any
police officer can find oneself in deep
trouble.  Even in today's environment of
social hysteria, you, as a police officer,
can stay above the fray by simply
educating yourself on the issues of our
time and learning how to properly
exercise your authority.  This is easier
said than done, because a police officer's
authority is so broad.  As a new police
officer, you'll experience some
complicated circumstances early in your
police career, and you'll have to rely on
your reasoning power to exercise your
authority reasonably.

A perfect example of a hot button issue
is child sexual and physical abuse.  
Firstly, abuse can only occur at the hands
of a parent or one who is responsible for
the care and custody of the child.  Abuse
does not apply to children sexually or
physically assaulted by others.

When I began my police career in 1971, I
was amazed how sexual and physical
child abuse was investigated and handled
by police and social services.  When
complaints of abuse were made to police
officers, the investigations were promptly
handed off to the Department of Social
Services.  Early on, I had confrontations
with social workers, because I sought
arrest warrants for those responsible for
abuse.  Some social services supervisors
even complained to my supervisors,
because I was operating outside the
normal way of doing things.  While my
own supervisors were not happy with the
confrontations, they supported me.  My
supervisors had no choice since child
abuse was unlawful by state statute, and
I was acting lawfully.

You have to remember that forty years
ago, society had a kinder, gentler view
toward criminals of nearly every
category.  Since child abuse was most
often a family matter, the social experts
believed that the involvement of police
officers and the courts was a disrupting
factor in the counseling process which
was far superior to punishment.

In the beginning, I was amazed how
truthful children were when they were
questioned about suspected abuse.  
However, as the years passed, and child
abuse became unacceptable as a purely
social issue to be handled outside the
criminal justice system, I noticed more
children wising up to a great way to
exercise revenge against their parent(s),
guardian(s) or care giver(s).

In the mid 1980's, child abuse was well
on its way to hot button issue status.  
Police departments were paying much
closer attention to the problem, and
police officers were expected to seek
prosecution of those suspected of child
abuse.  During that period, I was
dispatched to the pediatric emergency
room of a very prestigious Baltimore
hospital.  The treating physician met me,
and she explained that while treating a
ten year old female patient for a minor
ailment, she observed healing cigarette
burns to the patients thighs and
buttocks.  When the Doctor questioned
the young girl, the girl stated her mother
had burned her with a cigarette as
punishment for "being bad."

I interviewed the child, and I found her to
be quite intelligent and credible.  I
interviewed the mother separately.  The
mother was not nearly as intelligent as
her daughter.  She insisted that she'd
not burned her daughter with a cigarette,
but her unsophisticated manner made it
difficult to gauge her credibility.  Her only
defense was that her daughter "makes
things up."

After interviewing the doctor, the child,
and the mother, sufficient probable cause
existed to charge the mother with
physical child abuse.  The next part in the
process was to have the child placed
outside the home by the Department of
Social Services.  This is where things
really became interesting.

I'll never forget this social worker.  She
was middle aged and not terribly
friendly.  When she came into the
emergency room, she sighed and
dropped her overstuffed shoulder bag on
a table and asked, "Where's the child?"  I
started to explain the circumstances.  
She tolerated me for a few minutes as
she nodded her head.  When she'd had
enough of me, she simply replied, "Okay,
where's the child?"

This woman took the child into an
examination room where she interviewed
the alleged victim for about fifteen
minutes.  When Ms. Social Worker
emerged from the room, she announced,
"She's lying."  As I waited for a further
explanation of her statement, none was
forthcoming.  She simply put her
notepad into that big bag and threw it
over her shoulder.  I then asked, "How
did she get the burns?"  Her response
was short and to the point.  "They're not
burns…it's Infintigo."  Well…the doctor,
who was standing nearby and listening to
the social worker's diagnosis, was not
impressed.  After the doctor had her say,
the social worker offered no response as
she politely said good bye and headed for
the door.

I followed her through the door and onto
the sidewalk.  I told her that she'd have
to give me a better explanation than she
had.  Her tone changed from one of
seeming indifference to one of sincerity.  
She looked me directly in the eye and
said, "Officer…I know you're concerned
for the child, and you want to do the
right thing.  I've been at this for twenty
years, and I can tell you without a doubt
that those marks are Infintigo.  I don't
know why the child is lying about being
burned by her mother, but she is lying."

I returned to the emergency room where
I encountered a very irritated Pediatrician,
but the social worker had made a point.  
She had years of experience observing a
condition among children living in a low
socioeconomic environment; whereas,
the examining physician was young and
new to real world realities.  I ask the
doctor to get a second opinion on the
apparent burns while I did a criminal
records check on the mother.

I found myself in somewhat of a
dilemma.  I had a young child claiming
that her mother had purposely, and
repeatedly, burned her with the lit end of
a cigarette, and now I had, not one, but
two, highly qualified Pediatricians verifying
the child's account. In contradiction to
this evidence was one overworked and
underpaid social worker.  Further, the
record check of the mother showed no
arrests for anything.  There was one
thing left to do to verify, conclusively,
who was right.  The lab work on cultures,
taken by the doctor, would be completed
the following day.
Think about this for a moment.  This is
an example where your power as a police
officer can have enormous effects on
peoples' lives.  If the child was abused by
her mother, I'd be doing the only right
thing by arresting her mother thereby
forcing the Department of Social Services
to place the child with other family
members or foster care.  On the other
hand, I could wait until the following day
for the laboratory results.  There was a
very easy solution.  I had ample evidence
to arrest and charge the mother.  Even if
the laboratory results showed the child
to be lying, no one could fault me for my
actions, because the evidence at hand
was more than sufficient probable cause.

Initially, the mother's fate was sealed
after the first doctor's diagnosis;
however, nothing is rarely the way it first
appears, so I decided to do some
additional investigation before deciding
the mother's fate.  I transported the
child and her mother home.  I inspected
the home's physical environment, and I
was pleased to see this child resided in a
much better environment than many
other children in the neighborhood.   

I'm sure you've already guessed that I
did not arrest the mother.  A lot of
things affected my decision, not least my
prior experience in similar situations.  I'm
certain you've already concluded that the
social worker was right.  The laboratory
did confirm the social worker's diagnosis.  
That's life…even highly qualified doctors
can't be right all the time.

Now…think about yourself as a police
officer handling a very similar situation in
today's environment.  If you'd take the
same action I did, somebody from the
hospital might call the local TV station,
and you could find yourself on the
evening news.  The Police Chief would be
shown on a split screen taking about "the
children" while the other side of the
screen would show a street filled with
police cars and flashing lights as police
officers escort the mother from her home
in handcuffs.  Let's take it a step
further.  What if the child was the child of
a "somebody." Imagine the child being
the daughter of an influential person who
is really newsworthy.

As I said, you're beginning your police
career in a time like no other.  There is so
much media today with so many
politicians and advocates falling over one
another to grab the spotlight.  Social
issues form the basis of so many
controversies which are the stock and
trade of the media, and you, as a police
officer, are going to be right in the middle
of those controversies.  The most
important thing for you remember
is…never take anything for granted.  

A police officer must develop a reasoning
process; wherein, you're continuously
evaluating information.  If you commit
yourself to this process, it becomes
second nature, and you don't even have
to consciously think about the process.  
A lot of police officers never really perfect
the process.  In fact, some never even
develop the process in a rudimentary
form.  These are police officers who
always act on first impressions, and they
let prior or existing prejudices guide their
actions.  A police officer's ability to fairly
and accurately evaluate information is
what separates you from everybody else.

You're not perfect, and you never will be,
but being right most of the time is a
really great feeling.  Besides making you
feel good, being right keeps you out of
trouble.  Remember, being right on a
factual basis supercedes any popular
social acceptance of an alternative, and
always temporary, idea of what is right.
You're beginning your police career in a
time like no other.  Police officers have
always been the subject of attention,
because police officers are simply the first
and last line of defense against those
who would disrupt society.  Every
generation has had its hot button issues,
and police officers have always adjusted,
and they've learned how to navigate
thorny social issues.
Child Abuse
"Remember, being right on a factual
basis supercedes any popular social
acceptance of an alternative, and
always temporary, idea of what is
right." ~ Barry M. Baker
Copyright © 2015  Barry M. Baker  

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