Why Failing to Train Police can Lead to Inaction and Citizen Bewilderment
As a recently retired Staff Sergeant from a modern mid-sized Canadian police department, today I can share with my readers that I am a little frustrated with some of those who wear blue, and some of those who train them. I want to emphasize that in my 30 years of police experience the majority of law enforcement officers have gone above and beyond to help those who seek their assistance, especially when it comes to kids in danger.
Yesterday I was contacted by a female in Quebec, via phone, who found me on the internet given my work in the area of social media safety advocacy. This person runs a popular blog that many tweens and teens participate in. The caller had received a video from a 12-year-old girl who was self-harming with a knife and did not know what to do. This caller had done some of her own online investigation, and was able to track this young person to a school in Australia.
Immediately upon hearing her story, I advised the caller to contact her local police department and provide them with all the information she had collected. With this information, her local police could then contact the law enforcement agency in Australia in the jurisdiction of this school. I further advised the caller that if her local police stated they could not help (which I would find hard to believe), she could immediately reconnect with me, and that I would then take it upon myself to notify the police and the school in Australia (something that I have done many times before both on and off the job).
Today I learned that the caller was advised by a police officer that they could not help her, given that this was taking place in another country, and that maybe she could contact the Australian police herself. WOW. Contact the Australian police herself?! A 12-year-old girl significantly self harming, and a complainant who provided the who, what, where, and how, and the best this officer could do was to say, “Maybe you can contact the Australian police yourself.” Even if this was true, which it is not, what about saying, “Boy, this is a first for me in dealing with a situation like this, so how about we call the Australian police together?”
This is a good example of a police officer failing to act, not because of laziness, but rather because something reported to them was most likely outside of their comfort zone, given their lack of knowledge and/or experience. This is something that I find to be especially true with officers who are not comfortable with technology, the internet, and social media.
We need to do a better job in educating our officers about online investigations and how they can appropriately follow up with law enforcement agencies outside of Canada, where appropriate and reasonable to do so. Citizens reach out to law enforcement for help and guidance in critical situations such as this example, and saying, “Maybe you can contact the Australian police” is not good enough, especially when there is more that could have been done by her local police. Are there times where there is nothing police can do to help? Yes, there are, BUT this situation was not one of them! Knowledge and the understanding and application of that knowledge is power!
In the end, and after some time (remember time can be critical in cases such as this), the caller contacted law enforcement in Australia who then connected with the school where this 12-year-old is in attendance. The caller was then contacted by the principal from this Australian school to thank her. It turns out that this 12-year-old was not only having to cope with the recent divorce of her mom and dad, but she was also being severely bullied at school, and no one knew the extent of her self-harm.
This is another perfect example of positive intervention, not because of the police, but because of a tenacious caller who was looking out for the good and welfare of a 12-year-old girl half way around the globe. Welcome to the “White Hatter Club,” caller!