Adults We Need to Talk the Talk and Walk the Walk
Especially Those in Law Enforcement
It is with a heavy heart that I share this posting, given that I served in law enforcement for 30 years. I am starting to observe a pattern when tweens, teens and even adults are connecting with police and looking for guidance and help when it comes to social media challenges such a threat, or more importantly, suicidal thoughts and ideations, and subsequently being told “there is nothing we can do”
The other night I was contacted by a US teen, whose friend in another State was experiencing a mental health crisis, and in the process of self-harm to the point of possible life taking consequences. This teen advised me that both her parents were outside the home, so she could not ask them what to do, so she connected with me online for both help and guidance.
After understanding the situation, I was able to confirm online her friend’s name, picture, Facebook page, Facebook ID number, phone number and the State and city in which he was now living. Now armed with this information, I advised this teen to contact her local police department and provide them with the information. The teen did exactly what I advised her to do, at which time the complaint taker advised her that given that this person lived out of state, and the fact that she did not have the address of where this teen was living, there was nothing that her police department could do, which is totally inaccurate. The police department then provided the phone number to the out of State PD and advised her to contact them.
This now highly emotional teen, as directed, phoned long distance to the police department where her friend lived, and spoke with a complaint taker who advised that given the fact that she could not provide a physical address, there was nothing they could do to help. When asked by this teen about doing a reverse search on the phone number, the complaint taker advised, “that only happened on TV and that in the real-world police could not do this.”
After hanging up with this police department, the teen reconnected with me and shared her absolute anger and sadness over the fact that police stated they could do nothing to help, when I clearly advised that in most circumstances, especially in cases like this with the information we had, they could.
I then took it upon myself to call this major east coast US police department from the west coast of Canada, to see if I could get a call generated to secure a “check welfare’ on this suicidal teen. I spoke with the complaint taker, and provided them with the same information that the teen who connected with me in the first place did, and they too advised that unless I had the address there was nothing they could do.
Upon hearing this, I disclosed the fact that I was a recently retired police officer in Canada, and that I respectfully and professionally disagreed with her comment. I advised her that I was well aware that law enforcement in both Canada and the USA had the ability to locate a possible address with the information that I provided. I also advised this complaint taker that Facebook also has a “Law Enforcement Only Portal” designed to help police with location information in emergency cases just like this, if they had both the username and Facebook ID number which I provided to her. I was then placed on hold and about 15-20 seconds later she came back online and once again asked me for all the information that I had already provided to her. She then stated that they would see what they could do. She then disconnected with me without even asking me for my contact information. It was clear to me that she was mad about the fact that I challenged her comments to me. This morning I learned, from the teen who first contacted me last night, that the police were able to locate her suicidal friend, where a positive mental health intervention took place.
I travel internationally talking about social media safety, digital literacy and its associated issues surrounding digital peer aggression and suicidal ideations. In all my presentations, I stress to students that if you know a friend needs help, especially when it comes to self-harm or suicide, connect with an adult or the police and they will help.
This case is another in a string of events that I have been involved in, where students or adults have connected with the police for guidance and help, and the police failed to do so when clearly, they could have taken action. It’s no wonder that I have so many teens telling me that when they do contact the police, “they do nothing”. In the vast majority of cases, not all, police are able to help. Often, I find that too many officers and civilian complaint takers are not aware of this fact because of the lack of training on this specific challenge, which is becoming more of an issue in today’s digital world. This is something I wrote about in this article back in 2016 https://www.thewhitehatter.ca/single-post/2016/08/18/Why-Failing-to-Train-Police-can-Lead-to-Inaction-and-Citizen-Bewilderment. This once again emphasizes that fact that if you are not satisfied with the answer or information provided to you over the phone by the complaint taker (civilian or police), do not hesitate to say “thank you” and then phone back and ask for the "Watch Commander” or supervisor.
I can also share with our readers that although incidents like this are a reality, it is my experience that they are a rarity. Many police departments will take positive action in cases such as this, which I have written about elsewhere on this page.
Like the title of this posting states, adults need to start talking the talk and walking the walk, especially those of us in law enforcement. Like it or not we have become the digital sheepdog, the online protectors of the herd, and that digital herd is our kids, education, however, is key!
To all those teens and adults who follow me, be your friend’s/ child’s best advocate. Don’t be afraid to questions authority in a reasonable and appropriate way, especially when it comes to digital peer aggression or self-harm/suicidal thoughts and ideations. Your advocacy could mean the difference between life or death. Also don’t forget, wherever possible, we will help shepherd you through this process.
Once again, we are blessed to have been involved in bringing about a successful resolution to a possible bad situation.
Digital Food for Thought
The White Hatter