A Response to Recent Child-Luring Incidents
Thursday, October 25, 2012 • 7:08pm
With the recent rise of reports of attempted child luring incidents, it is important for parents to discuss with their children about how they can keep themselves as safe as possible. Two towns in our county have recently experienced possible child luring attempts. In Cranford, an 11 year old girl told police that a man driving a newer style silver vehicle pulled to the curb and motioned to her to approach the vehicle. The man is described as white, in his 30s with light-colored short hair, possibly a crew cut. He is reported to have been wearing a white shirt and sport coat. The man never spoke to the girl during the incident. She ignored him and continued walking to the bus stop where she called a parent and reported the incident. In Summit, a group of children reported being followed to school by a tan GMC Yukon. Fortunately, in both incidents, the children were not physically harmed or touched.
While there have been no recent reported child luring attempts in Westfield, it is an unfortunate fact that criminals do not recognize municipal boundaries. Therefore, the Westfield Police Department remains on constant alert. In addition, there are procedures and practices established in conjunction with the Westfield Board of Education to reduce the possibility of these incidents occurring (as well as to set forth the prompt and proper response to an incident should one be reported). Further, the Westfield Police Department has offered the “Stranger Danger” program to students at the elementary schools to discuss the dangers that strangers may present and to explain to students what they can do to keep themselves as safe as possible.
I encourage all parents to have an ongoing, age-appropriate discussion with their children about their safety. Remember, you do not want to overwhelm them with fear; rather, you want to arm them with information and techniques that can keep them as safe as possible. I am providing the following tips as a starting point.
- Re-assure your children that the grown-ups around them care about their safety and are doing everything they can to keep them as safe as possible.
- Use the recent incident that occurred in Cranford to show what that child did to keep herself safe. She did not approach the car. She continued to a safe place. She called her parents. Ask your child what they would do if the situation happened to them and why. Use the “what if” scenario with your child to discuss a variety of circumstances and possible actions the child can take.
- Be sure your child knows their full name, address and phone number as well as contact information for their parents or guardians.
- Teach your child to only walk the routes to and from school or bus stop that you know. Walk the route with them initially and make them aware of safe locations along the way that they can go to if they need help (examples may be school crossing guards, trusted neighbors and friends, public buildings, or a police officer).
- There is safety in numbers. Whenever possible, children should walk in groups.
- Remind your children to pay attention to their surroundings and not to wear headphones or be distracted by a hand-held game.
- Encourage your child to trust their instincts. If they feel they are being followed or something is not right, they should seek help immediately, and then call you (the parent).
- Tell your child that if someone they don’t know approaches them, they should not speak to them and should keep walking. They should be aware of luring techniques such as a stranger offering them candy or a video game, asking them for help, claiming to have a lost pet or a supposed emergency involving a family member. Remind children that adults that truly need help should go to other adults (not children) for help.
- If a stranger does approach your child, teach your child to keep going or get away first, and then to try and remember the description of the suspect individual and the vehicle involved, if any. Stress the importance of this so success in locating this individual promptly is more likely.
- Although the frequency of occurrence is rare, teach your children that if a stranger ever attempts to grab them, they should do everything they can to stop the stranger from dragging them away and/or forcing them into his or her car. Tell them to drop to the ground, kick, bite and repeatedly scream, “You’re not my mother/father. Call the police. Help.” Instruct children to do whatever it takes to attract attention of others who can help.
I would also like to remind everyone that we should all look out for each other. There are over 6,300 students in our nine public schools alone, and hundreds more students enrolled in the private schools and the Union County Educational Schools in our town. That means there are lots of students and parents and guardians going to and from the schools. As I said before, there is safety in numbers. Not only should students be aware of their surroundings, so too should the adults. Parents and children should not hesitate to contact the Westfield Police Department (908-789-4000 or 911 in an emergency) to report anything they observe that is out of the ordinary or suspicious in any way.
David Wayman is the Chief of Police in Westfield, NJ.
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