If your child is acting out physically by abusing you or other family members, destroying property or threatening others, taking proactive steps to work collaboratively and cooperatively with police can save a large degree of potential grief down the road. We understand that this is a very personal decision that every parent has to make on their own. If your child’s behavior has escalated to the point you have reason to believe you’ll need to involve the police at some point soon, you may decide to take the following steps:
1. Call ahead. Call and make an appointment to speak with the chief or head of the police department and any local officers who patrol your area. You can just go down to the station, but it’s better to make an appointment and go while things are calm.
2. Explain your position. Let them know that you need their help. Your hope is that together, during this meeting, you can come up with a plan you can count on as to how things will be handled if and when they are called to your home. Understand the police are there for legal issues and let them know you will only call them when your legal rights, or those of someone in your home, have been violated.
3. Make a list. Make a list of the legal rights your child has been violating (i.e., property destruction, assault, possession of drugs in your home, breaking local curfews, running away).
4. Let the police know that you want to hold your child accountable. Tell the police that you are not looking for them to parent your child; you’re looking for them to hold your child accountable for violating the law. Share your belief that you and the police have the same goal: to produce an upstanding, law-abiding citizen. At this stage of the game, you need their help. Let the police know you’re hoping your child will learn that there are consequences for his actions now, before he reaches adulthood and the consequences become more severe. Your child does not have the right to violate your rights just because he’s family or a minor.
5. Assure the police that you are open to their ideas. Tell the police you’re open to any ideas they have and that you understand they cannot necessarily arrest your child and take him to jail if he’s a minor. Some of your child’s behavior may not be severe enough to be taken directly to the juvenile detention center. However, tell the police that you still want him held accountable—and let them know what you’d like to happen. When there is an incident with your child and you call in the future, you would like the police to file a written complaint and for them to inform your child this will be on record and will follow him into adulthood. This may make an impact on your child and the choices he makes. Also, by having these complaints on record, you are leaving a paper trail, so if your child does end up in the court system, there is written proof to back up your claims and to get him the services he may need.
6. Request the same officer again. If the person you speak with agrees, ask if you can specifically request any of the officers you’ve met with to be the ones who respond to your call and come to your home if the need arises. Get names and business cards if they’re willing. In taking these steps, you’re improving the chances of an effective response to your child’s behavior by the police.
Again, be proactive in your interactions with the police. Take along this Police Intervention Worksheet with you when you go to the station. Sit down with an officer and go through it together. Tell him/her that you’re there to find ways to hold your child accountable, and that you want to work with police for a good outcome for everyone. It can help if you work effectively with law enforcement as a team to hold your child responsible for his or her behavior and grow into a productive, law-abiding citizen.
Kimberly Abraham, LMSW, has worked with children and families for more than 25 years. She specializes in working with teens with behavioral disorders, and has also raised a child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Marney Studaker-Cordner, LMSW, is the mother of four and has been a therapist for 15 years. She works with children and families and has in-depth training in the area of substance abuse. Kim and Marney are the co-creators of The ODD Lifeline for parents of Oppositional, Defiant kids, and Life Over the Influence, a program that helps families struggling with substance abuse issues. Their first children's book, Daisy: The True Story of an Amazing 3-Legged Chinchilla, teaches the value of embracing differences and was the winner of the 2014 National Indie Excellence Children's Storybook Cover Design Award.