It’s not a new problem, but police said it appears to be increasing as previous forms of child punishment have become unacceptable.
Calls about children refusing to go to school are highest at the beginning of the school year. Police expect them to drop off for a while until the end of the year. Really cold days can cause an increase, too.
No matter the nature of the call, a deputy is dispatched.
“We go for a lot of different reasons,” said Richmond County sheriff’s Capt. Steven Strickland. “One, because we’re serving the community, and two, because we don’t want the situation to blow up into something that might be (considered a crime).”
Officers attempt to persuade the child to go to school, but it’s never forced. Sometimes they learn there are other factors, such as bullying, that are causing the refusal. At that point, police involve counselors and school public safety.
Strickland said it’s rare, but officers have driven kids to school in patrol cars.
Columbia County Sheriff’s Office receives similar requests from parents, but they’re not very common.
“It’s paramount that these kids are in school,” said Columbia County sheriff’s Capt. Steve Morris. “We’ll do and have done whatever it takes to get them there, even if it means escorting them.”
Police said refusal to attend school is just one of many reasons parents call them.
“If you can think of a reason why they’d call us, they’ve called us,” Strickland said.
The most common request in both counties is for police to show up and scare the youngsters into being good.
In past years of law enforcement, it might have been more acceptable to give the child “fire and brimstone” for his own good, but those days have passed, police said.
“We’re not really the bogeymen,” Strickland said. “I don’t think it serves anybody’s interest for us to go out and scare the kid.”
Police called scaring tactics detrimental to children and their relationship with law enforcement.
Sgt. Shane McDaniel said he dissuades parents from using an officer’s presence to change a child’s behavior. He said it’s not uncommon to see parents point out a uniformed officer to misbehaving children as young as 2 and say the officer will “get you” if the bad behavior doesn’t change.
“They’re like sponges,” McDaniel said. “If Mama says you better watch out for that po-po because he’ll take you away, then that’s dangerous.”
Police said it warps the child’s mind of the officer’s job. Instead of running to a police officer, children sometimes run the other way for fear they’re in trouble.
“Some parents will always call the police to scare their children,” said Richmond County sheriff’s Capt. Gerald Metzler. “They’re looking for an alternative means to get their child on the straight and narrow. If they can take advantage of the police, it’s all the better for them and it keeps them from looking like the bad guy.”
Parents aren’t the only ones calling. Metzler said children call to complain about their punishment. As a precaution, an officer is dispatched, but usually it turns out to be “silly things” such as a child not being able to play outside or go out with friends.
Scare requests also top the list in Columbia County.
“We have to be careful how we interact (with children),” Morris said. “We don’t want them to fear us; we want them to fear the path they’re headed.”
As part of the FOG (Fear of God) initiative, parents take their children to the sheriff’s office for a glimpse of their future. Each visit is tailored to the child’s problems, but Morris said it usually includes a tour of the jail and examples of children who have succeeded and those who haven’t.
It’s most common in early teens, but Columbia County has had requests from parents of 7- to 16-year-olds.
“Our experience is that often times it helps,” Morris said. “Parents are obviously appreciative.”
Richmond County has a similar program for first-time offenders. The teens are referred to the program by a Juvenile Court judge.