PD: 'Crying Wolf' Syndrome Makes It Hard to Report All Incidents

After a Summit elementary school student reported being followed this morning, police chief says department decided to act on 'suspicious' reports.

Unfortunately, as child luring reports become more frequent (a handful already this month in N.J. — with a separate, fatal abduction in the news), so do the so-called false alarms. A wave goodbye that missed the intended child, a visitor to Summit who's driving a little too slowly and has to turn around in a school parking lot. All of these scenerios are possible, and those involved may or may not have bad intentions.

While parents and police agree open communication is always the best policy when a child perceives a threat, there's a decision process, according to Summit's police chief, that comes before sending out any mass alerts that can be perceived as alerts about child luring.

The decision to send the following alert was based on the fact that local authorities had already received a pair of "suspicious incident" reports. Police Chief Bob Weck decided to fire off a pair of advisory emails to parents describing a suspicious incident report he received and then to explain his reasons for sending out, along with safety tips.

The following email was sent to residents today at around 11:45a.m. to discuss an earlier alert about a 'suspicious incident' near a Summit elementary school.

Advisory: The recent luring attempts in other counties present an opportunity for parents to discuss safety tips with their children.

In the last few weeks, there have been several reports of child luring attempts in Bergen County as well as the tragic death of a young girl from Gloucester County. These recent luring attempts present an opportunity for parents to discuss safety tips with their children. Listed below are some safety tips for children when walking to and from school and during the weekends:

•Make sure that students never walk by themselves. They should always walk in groups with at least two or three other students.

•Students should know how to report anyone suspicious to school personnel or the police immediately.

•Teach all children their home phone number and address, their parent’s cell phone numbers and the number of an additional adult that each student knows personally and can be trusted with.

•Include a card with important numbers and addresses in their backpack and/or shoe. Make sure each child carries a telephone calling card or a phone (or even small change) so that they can make a phone call easily.

•Parents working outside the home should make contact with their children as soon as they are home from school to ensure that they know of their whereabouts.

•Predatory lures that are commonly used include asking for help, a lost pet, bribery, authority figures and faking an emergency.

•If a child is approached by a stranger, he or she should never answer questions, engage in conversation, or get in the stranger’s car.

•If approached, kids should remember three rules – drop anything they are carrying that might slow them down, make as much noise as possible, and run to a safe location.

•Remain anonymous. When outside the house, do not wear clothing, backpacks or other articles with their name visible on it. Children are more likely to trust someone who calls them by name.

•Keep at arm’s length. Children should stay at least an adult arm’s length away from any car that is occupied by a person trying to talk to them so that they cannot be reached by the person inside the car.

•Run in reverse. If necessary, children should know to run in the opposite direction from the one the car is facing. It is harder to drive in reverse than forward.

These safety tips are not to alarm you or your child, but to help you in your discussions with your children about being safe while walking around Summit or in other locations.

Our department weighs the decision to publicize these types of suspicious incidents due to the Catch-22 scenario it triggers both in the schools, as well as in the community. On one hand, it gives the perception that there is an ongoing problem with “luring” incidents, and it also has the capability to become a “crying wolf” syndrome.

In an effort to keep the public informed, in the last two days we have received a couple of reports of suspicious acts and the latest one which occurred at Brayton Elementary School which was put out through Nixle earlier.

If you have any questions or need additional information, please don’t hesitate to contact the Summit Police Department at 908-273-0051. Working together, we will make Summit an even stronger community.

Chief Robert Weck
Summit Police Department

summitmom October 25, 2012 at 08:02 PM
Very helpful tips, never thought about the "run in the opposite direction" idea...good info!
PATTY October 26, 2012 at 02:11 AM
Great tips!
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