Orlando cop sparks outrage for arresting 6-year-olds
Any school resource officer could tell you that it’s common for small children to throw tantrums or get into altercations at school. But a 6-year-old getting arrested, fingerprinted and booked — complete with a mugshot — for having a meltdown?
You don’t see that everyday — and for good reason.
Most rational adults understand kids in elementary school are still learning how to process emotion, and they’ll step out of line from time to time.
Dennis Turner, the part-time Orlando officer who was working at Lucious and Emma Nixon Academy, failed to demonstrate that basic understanding when he arrested not one but two 6-year-olds for misdemeanor battery.
One of those kids, according to the arrest report, kicked and punched employees during a fit. The young girl’s grandmother claimed she throws tantrums in part because of her sleep disorder.
Call us crazy, but children acting out during tantrums doesn’t rise to the level of a public safety threat. We expect sworn officers to differentiate between hardened criminals and misbehaving kids.
“Our top priority as a city is the safety and well-being of our city’s children,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer tweeted. “OPD has launched an internal investigation into this and the officer has been suspended pending the outcome of that investigation.”
Turner, who is black, wasn’t just suspended, he was fired. As he should have been.
His actions further erode the bond of trust that children need to have with law enforcement, especially in a region where a disproportionate amount of African-American juveniles get funneled into the criminal justice system.
From June 2015 to June 2016, Orange County saw more young people arrested than Miami-Dade County, which has double Orange’s population. Most of those arrests were of black boys 12 to 16 years old, according to a five-part series on juvenile justice by the Equal Justice Initiative.
School resource officers are supposed protect our kids from evil, not create new rap sheets for children who make childish decisions.
Turner’s actions were heartless, but the other adults who saw this shameful process unfold seem to have done little to nothing to stop it.
We don’t know if this particular child has a previous history of unruly behavior. We do know teachers and administrators often deal with challenging and sometimes unruly students who push boundaries.
School employees should not have to endure physical attacks from students. But using the criminal justice system as a means of correcting the misbehavior of small children is cruel.
Thankfully, State Attorney Aramis Ayala stood up and declared she would not participate in the “schoolto-prison” pipeline and would not press charges.
Turner’s disciplinary history should have been a red flag before he was assigned to work with small children. He was arrested by Apopka police in 1998 after welts and bruises were found on his then 7-year-old son’s arms and chest. While prosecutors dropped criminal charges against Turner, OPD’s Internal Affairs office conducted an investigation and disciplined him.
OPD’s disciplinary files for Turner include an allegation of racial profiling and an incident in which he stunned a trespassing suspect five times. Turner retired in 2018 but was working in the department’s reserve force.
No one is perfect, and that includes cops. But Turner’s history suggests he was not the ideal choice to patrol school hallways.
Children are immature human beings who rely on responsible adults to help mold their education and character.
School resource officers play a particularly important role in the lives of children and teenagers when it comes to offering them life lessons about making good choices.
This requires a specific temperament and training.
Some agencies send officers through specific SRO training that teaches them how to work with children with certain mental challenges and how to de-escalate tense situations (rather than make them worse). But the state doesn’t mandate such training, so some agencies do not.
Maybe it’s time for that policy of leaving it to individual departments needs to change since we can’t rely on every agency to be as thorough as they should be in training people to work inside schools.
Given how rarely elementary school children are arrested, we have reason to believe more school resource officers are doing the right things than not.
But when it comes to kids, we need to be certain every cop who serves as a school resource officer is the right person to guard the physical and emotional safety of the kids they’re sworn to protect.