Insight from the West Fargo PD: What would you do?
The West Fargo Police Department recently received an inquiry relating to an elementary aged child walking to school during winter storm conditions. On this particular morning the child was on his way to school at what would be normal school start time; however, school was on a two hour delay start. The person was asking what they should have done. Our answer would need to be, ‘it depends’ as there are a number of factors to consider.
First, the West Fargo School system makes the notification to delay school start or to cancel school and school activities hours in advance. Notification is made through local news outlets and through the use of a school based notification system. The school based notification system uses an automated telephone calling feature and e-mail notification. When the school administration makes the decision to delay start or close the school, the notification is sent to a parent or guardian’s contact telephone number and e-mail address that was gathered during the student’s school registration process. During periods of bad weather, parents and guardians need to be monitoring the weather and listening to local news outlets to receive important updates provided by the school.
Anytime you see a child you believe to be endangered it is important to check upon the child’s welfare. You may elect to approach the child and speak with them to determine if they are in need of assistance. During your evaluation of the situation consider the following: do you know the child or the family; are they dressed appropriately; how long will they be exposed to the weather; are they alone or with others; do they have the ability to seek shelter nearby; are they mature enough to recognize the potential danger of remaining outdoors or in their current location. Any indication to you that the child may need assistance should be enough to cause you to contact your local police department. The police department would much rather respond to a call for service where we are not needed than to not be called and something negative were to happen.
After you have determined that intervention is necessary to protect the child contact the law enforcement dispatcher and describe the situation, the child’s clothing and your location. Calling 911 to do so is okay. An officer will be dispatched to the scene to address the issue. Stay with the child if possible until law enforcement arrives. If the child insists on leaving or avoids contact with you, monitor the child’s movements and provide updates to law enforcement as to where the child has gone. You may decide to place the child in your car or home. Notify dispatch if you decide to do so and stay at the location until law enforcement arrives.
Unwarranted accusations may cause adults to be reluctant to intervene to ensure the safety of a child. Training we as parents have provided to our children make them fearful of people who may be there to help them during a dangerous situation. It is a very difficult balancing act for all of us. North Dakota weather conditions can be very unforgiving and life threatening. Parents and guardians must do their part to not place their children in dangerous situations. Adults must be willing to speak up, speak out and act to protect a child. None of us would like to be in a position to have to say that we could have done something to prevent what has occurred. The situation can make for tough choices without an easy answer.
Reitan is the assistant police chief for West Fargo