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

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

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

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

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