Shaken by sheriffs

The sheriffs are scaring our children, and I don’t think it’s funny.

Last Friday, my wife and I were out, as were our four daughters, leaving our 13-year-old son home alone for awhile. He was on the phone in the rear of the house and became petrified when he heard a 10-foot plate glass window shatter in the front room.

Fearing that someone was trying to break in, he ran out of the house to neighbors before calling the police. The sheriff dispatched six units and a helicopter, which was greatly appreciated, but their behavior thereafter could best be labeled reprehensible.

Apparently the sheriff has appointed themselves as judge, jury and executioner, but I must have missed that election. I understand they would consider my son a suspect, but to threaten to put him in jail, bring detectives up to fingerprint him while shouting him down seems heavy-handed at best.

He called the police for protection, and instead now fears and mistrusts them. The police admitted later the threats and accusations, but their response was they were trying to solicit a confession since they had committed so many resources to the case and wanted to bring closure to the case.

What made matters worse was their willingness to share their suspicions with the neighbors, which made my son out to look like a liar and delinquent. After all, when the police allege something, it carries an aura of legitimacy that makes it just about impossible for a teen-ager to be believed.

The fallout from the police sharing their quasi-investigations with the neighbors had ramifications that proved injurious to this boy beyond belief. My son’s birthday was days after the police unsolicitedly shared their opinion with the neighbors, in which a few kids were invited to celebrate at a water park. An overzealous neighbor proceeded to call the parents of these kids and share the police “findings.” This essentially resulted in my son having a birthday party with no one to attend.

To this day no one from the sheriffs office has ever called my wife or I, which could at least have masqueraded as an investigation. If they had of, they would have found that we believed the window had a pre-existing chip in it and had been incorrectly installed by the contractor. They would have also learned that someone was seen on two different occasions at my son’s window, and he had real fear that person had returned, thus legitimizing his fear.

I would like to recommend in the future for the sheriff to be more sensitive when dealing with children. To shout a kid down and threaten to imprison him unless they hear what they want is wrong. On two occasions the sheriff’s office has told us that in Malibu, kids often are involved in mischievous activity and they have to assume guilt before innocence.

In this instance, the sheriff has alienated a young boy and caused a great deal of mistrust. We try to teach our children to respect authority and cooperate whenever possible, but respect is something that’s earned, not demanded. In the future, I hope it’s not asking too much for the sheriff to include parents in the equation. If they insist on doing no more than a cursory investigation it’s only right that they keep their opinions to themselves. After all, it’s impossible to unring the bell once the damage has been done.

Michael Madden

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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