CRESTVIEW — When residents call 911, the Crestview Police Department responds. But not all the calls constitute what law enforcement considers an emergency worth tying up 911 dispatchers.
"Every call is important to Crestview police officers," Chief Tony Taylor stated in his column in the department's April newsletter. "But we're noticing an increasingly disturbing trend. Some parents are calling and asking our officers to help them deal with their obstinate children."
Taylor said the abuse of emergency services is not just confined to Crestview. Police around the country have noticed parents who can't control their children say things like, "See that policeman over there? He's going to come over here and take you to jail if you don't behave!"
"Stuff like that concerns us on several levels," Taylor said.
First, cops love kids, Taylor said.
"Most of us have children of our own and understand the frustrations that parents often feel," he said. "But using a police officer as a threat to obtain compliance sends the wrong message and can make a child fearful of officers, and even make them leery of calling us in an actual emergency."
Children should be taught that a policeman is someone they can turn to for help, not someone who's going to help their parents punish them, Taylor said.
"If we overhear a parent say they'll call a police officer to force a child to behave, instead we're going to assure the kid that we're their friend," Taylor said. "That may undermine the parent's authority, but children need assurance that law enforcement officers are on their side."
Second, it saddens police officers to know there are parents who haven't mastered the art of parenting and expect to exploit a taxpayer-funded community resource that is not constituted to interfere in child discipline matters, Taylor said.
"Lately, this trend has taken an alarming twist," he said. "Some parents are calling our Dispatch Center—or even worse, dialing 911—to request an officer come over and help them get Junior ready for bed.
"If you call 911, we're going to respond, but if your five-year-old is acting up, you have to deal with it. It's time to be the mama or the daddy."
"Quite frequently we have those calls," dispatcher and patrol officer John Cook said. "We've had parents call and say, 'Hey, you've got to come help me get my kid to go to school.'"
And like another scourge of law enforcement—people who invite thieves to burglarize their vehicles by leaving them unlocked—such frivolous calls waste valuable law enforcement resources.
"When you ask police to come discipline your children, someone else could be getting away with murder," Crestview Police senior chaplain, the Rev. Mark Broadhead, said when the problem surfaced in a recent command staff meeting.
Perhaps more importantly, it's against the law to misuse the 911 system for anything but emergencies, and Junior not going to bed, throwing a tantrum or not eating his broccoli isn't an emergency.
"Instead of the child 'going to jail,' as the parent threatens, the parent might get a ride in the police car themselves," Taylor said.
"In short, we're not going to raise your kids for you. It's overloading our system, and it's not doing you or your children any good," he said. "Please don't do it."