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Police intervention at child day care centers.

Child care centers and preschool facilities have become an indispensable part of our communities. Not only has the number of child care units increased substantially, but the type of care provided also has expanded significantly. Facilities now operate on extended hours and provide care for children who have various emotional and physical needs.

The growing number of children and care providers in these facilities makes it essential that police administrators include provisions for child care centers in critical event planning. The unique vulnerability of children mandates extreme caution on the part of police personnel responding to an emergency at a care facility.

The events requiring police response vary. Police may be called to respond to internal incidents, such as attempted adbuctions by a parent or a stranger, or to external events, such as adverse weather, or industrial or transportation accidents that endanger the children. Regardless of the reason, responding officers must consider the special safety needs of the children involved. Effective preplanning will enable police administrators to exercise a high degree of control over a high-risk situation closely scrutinized by parents, the media, and the community.

On-Site Police Intervention

Police commanders need to ensure that their officers are sensitive to the age and vulnerability of the children within care facilities. Therefore, if the possibility for emotional outbursts or physical conflict exists during a service call, officers should remove the source from within the confines of the facility. This includes avoiding extended interviews with victims or complainants at the care center whenever possible.

At the same time, officers must not introduce situations into child care units. For example, every effort should be made not to serve warrants at or near child care facilities, unless circumstances present no alternative. Officers should then execute warrants as unobtrusively as possible and remove arrested subjects immediately.

Whether issuing a warrant or removing a person with care-giving duties, officers never should allow their actions to interfere with the needs of the children. If a care giver must be removed, the children's safety obviously is affected. In such instances, officers must make provisions for the children's care, especially for those who may be physically or emotionally challenged.

Any police action that affects the continuity of care center operations must not be undertaken lightly. Parents pay child care centers to provide a specific level of supervision and security for their children. Officers must respect those parental wishes, and whenever possible, minimize disruption of care centers.

Incidents Requiring Evacuation

Some situations--such as hazardous material spills, industrial accidents, or extreme weather conditions--necessitate the evacuation of a child care facility. Emergency services providers and care givers should prepare contingency evacuation plans, to include arrangements for transportation, designation of the transfer site, and selection and storage of necessary supplies. Some municipal statutes require child care facilities to have a relocation plan on file. It is not unrealistic to expect care units to assume responsibility for evacuation planning and expenses during times of municipal fiscal restraint.

If the emergency requires removing the children from the facility, a minimum number of vehicles should be used. A public or private bus, as opposed to a fleet of cars, permits the greatest degree of control. Safety seating must be a priority to ensure child protection and compliance with State vehicle codes. The move also should occur under police direction, and vehicles should travel at a moderate speed.

The relocation site should be within a municipal building, if at all possible, to ensure adequate safety and control. A police presence, where feasible, provides stability until the children can be returned to their parents. Without exception, the identity of any person picking up children must be documented either by the police or by the care center workers.

Police and care center administrators also must be prepared to respond to media requests for information. Law enforcement administrators can use news services to notify parents and to speed the process of releasing the children to their families or guardians. Broadcasts of accurate information reduce community and parental anxiety.

Emotional Extremes

Officers and administrators who are involved in any police action at a child care facility need to prepare for intensely emotional responses from the children, as well as from their parents. Naturally, children can be expected to become upset and scared by police intervention, whether for an arrest or for some type of emergency. Child care providers and police officers must work together to minimize disruption and to calm the children.

The extreme actions of parents who believe their children to be in danger, however, will require careful handling by police officers. In essence, the element of fear for a child's well-being can cause parents to behave in ways that easily could defeat the officers' attempts to establish stability at the site. Parents or guardians may try to circumvent police safeguards and remove a child, or they may irately demand that an officer bring them their child immediately.

Under no circumstance should a child be released from the scene without the release being processed or documented by a care center supervisor. Such accountability will require additional effort in an already complicated situation. Yet, the potential tragedy of losing a child or of releasing a child to a wrong person far exceeds any logistical headache presented by accurate release practices.

Critique and Evaluation

As with any event that compels an unusual public safety response, both a post-incident critique and evaluation are essential. A review group should include representatives from the child care facility, the fire service, the emergency medical providers, and any other emergency service agency that participated in the event. A subsequent meeting with parents also provides input and permits an exchange that could prove beneficial to both the community and the police.


Police executives need to understand and prepare for the unique variables that may develop during a police call for service at a child care facility. While planning will improve the potential for success, police leaders must be alert to any opportunity that permits added control of the situation. Police commanders should be ready to shift their agendas, scale down objectives, or rethink any part of an established strategy.

No department can plan for every contingency, but assessing selected situations does help police commanders to consider the special nature of the care center environment. The community expects the police to treat a care unit response as a high-priority event. Therefore, police action at a care center will be the focus of intense observation by parents, the community, and the media. Stabilizing the situation will require taking into account the children's special needs for safety and supervision and preparing for the multitude of emotional factors affecting the care providers, the children, and their families. By planning ahead and working closely with care center administrators, parents, and the media, police can resolve crisis situations at child care facilities safely and quickly.

Children's Care Center Evacuated After Gasoline Spill

A routine safety inspection of the playground at a local child and preschool care facility in Penn Township, Pennsylvania, triggered an unusual sequence of events that ended with an emergency evacuation of 65 youngsters and their care givers. On Monday, December 6, 1993, an employee discovered a strong gasoline odor coming from a stream near the play area. Responding Penn Township fire, police, and emergency medical units determined that a gasoline spill had occurred upstream earlier that day.

As a hazardous materials team was being dispatched, emergency services and police evacuated the children, all of whom were under 9 years of age. The school district sent a school bus to transport the children to a safe location. Care givers put several infant car seats on the bus before the children quickly boarded the waiting vehicle. Police guided the group to a local fire station, where the children were held under the supervision of their care givers and a police officer until they could be returned to their parents or guardians.

An evaluation of the event found that no child or care giver was injured as a result of the spill or the evacuation. Credit for success of the operation does not belong to one person or agency, but reflects on the combined efforts of those at the scene, coupled with extensive training and preparation.

Chief Maddox commands the Penn Township Police Department in Hanover, Pennsylvania.
COPYRIGHT 1994 Federal Bureau of Investigation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes related article
Author:Maddox, Joseph H.
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Date:Oct 1, 1994
Previous Article:Drug conspiracy cases.
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