Thursday, February 12, 2004

Parents on heightened alert


Having a child abducted or harmed by a stranger is a parent's worst nightmare. Recent incidents nationally and in Greater Cincinnati are turning those nightmares into broad-daylight fears.

The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office has asked citizens to call the sheriff's patrol division at 825-1500 or Crime Stoppers at 352-3040 for information leading to the arrest of the police impersonator in Anderson Township.
First there was the taped abduction of 11-year-old Carlie Brucia of Sarasota, Fla. A man took her while she walked behind a carwash Feb. 1. Two days later her body was found behind a church. A father with three girls of his own has been arrested in Carlie's death.

And now twice in the past 10 days in Anderson Township, a man dressed in a police-like uniform has approached children and asked to let him check their book bags for drugs.

Having someone impersonate a police officer undermines the effectiveness of true policing, and confuses children, who are taught to think of police as the good guys. From an early age, children are taught that if they are in trouble, they can seek help from police. After an unarmed man was shot while fleeing from Cincinnati Police three years ago, it became a mantra in this town that when approached by a police officer, the last thing you should do is run. Yet running away from this creep pretending to be a police officer is precisely what children should do in this case.

The most recent incident occurred at 1:55 p.m. Tuesday in the area of Forest Road and Meadowlane Drive, the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office said. When a man dressed as an officer approached a boy and asked for his book bag, the boy yelled, "no," and ran inside his apartment complex. The man fled on foot. He is described as white, possibly in his 30s, 5-feet-8 to 6 feet tall, and clean-shaven with a medium build and brown hair and sunglasses. He was wearing a uniform described as a long-sleeve, button-down style shirt, khaki pants and a navy police hat. There were gold patches on the shoulder of the shirt that had a gold shield on them with the word "police" across the top.

The Sheriff's Office and other police departments have a protocol of behavior when they stop citizens. The Sheriff's Office has sent an officer into schools in the area to explain, in detail, what children should look for if a genuine law enforcement officer approaches them.

The fact is, strangers rarely abduct children. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 100 children are abducted in such a way in the United States each year. But though rare, such cases are terrifying.

Parents should be able to let their children walk to and from the school bus stop without fear that strangers might accost them. Yet in the current environment, parents cannot be too careful. If you are a parent, devise plans with your children on what they should do if strangers pretending to know a child's family approach them. Develop family code words, and tell children that they can yell and bring attention to themselves if they feel endangered.

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