Or­lando cop sparks out­rage for ar­rest­ing 6-year-olds

The Korea Times - - OPINION - The above ed­i­to­rial ap­peared in the Or­lando Sen­tinel (Or­lando, Fla.). It was distribute­d by Tri­bune Con­tent Agency, LLC.

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.

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