CNN’s Great Idea to Get Kids Playing Outside!

Hi Readers! Friday night I was on CNN with Rick Sanchez, talking about how Take Our Kids to the Park & Leave Them There Day went. (Just fine, thanks!) The affable anchor then lamented the fact that he and his family live in a lovely suburb of Atlanta, but the playgrounds are always EMPTY. And then — he had a great idea of how to fill them again.

How?

Put a cop in the park! (“Ah, but what if the cop is a kidnapper?” asked my smart aleck 12-year-old who is getting used to the way most Americans think.)

Anyway, the point is: This is an idea that is doable and doesn’t seem to have a downside. Towns have cops and cops are supposed to be outside, on the beat, getting to know the community.  Put a cop at the local playground from, say, 3 to 7 on weekdays (more hours on weekends) and it’s like sprinkling a parched field. Suddenly, it blooms anew! Parents are no longer scared to let their kids go to the park. The kids who go, run into other kids. The kids start to play together, they get exercise, they make up games, they create community and the cop is making the neighborhood family-friendly again.

“It’s just like the old days, when we had parkies!” said Curtis Sliwa, when I mentioned the idea on his radio show  yesterday. Before my time, apparently, the New York City Parks Department used to have an adult or two in each park to watch the kids, lend out equipment, maybe even start a game of this or that.  If parks can’t afford parkies anymore, maybe the police department can afford, well, coppies, since it is in everyone’s interest to make the streets and playgrounds safe, and that’s what a local cop can do.

So: What do you think of this idea? Especially if you happen to be in law enforcement, I’d like to know if it makes as much sense to you as it does to me! And if it does make sense — let’s figure out how to make it happen! — Lenore

Wouldn't it be nice if kids gathered at playgrounds on their own? Rick Sanchez has a way to make that happen!

93 Responses

  1. If police were free and there was a real danger, it would be a great idea. Unfortunately, most cities have gotten themselve in financial diffiuculties and this seems like a silly use of money.

    But perhaps cops driving by frequently would reassure scaredy-cat parents with minimal costs.

  2. I feel incredibly cheated to learn that they used to have parkies and then just stopped providing them. I guess people didn’t want to pay taxes. And then they complain about kids today being lazy. I think it’s a fantastic idea!

  3. There IS a potential downside to such an initiative, in that if we get in the habit of having policemen on guard at playgrounds, it could actually serve to reinforce the false impression that they are NECESSARY. And then soon no one will dream of sending their kids to an unguarded park, and cities will conclude that they must shut down playgrounds during any hours when a guard is not on duty.

    If this sounds far-fetched, look at what has happened at pools, beaches and even local natural swimming holes with respect to lifeguards. What was once considered an extra safety benefit offered by the best-organized and poshest pools is now considered an absolute requirement in many places – largely out of concern for the liability which might be incurred by permitting swimming with no guard present.

  4. What about getting neighborhood watch organizations involved? Instead of sitting in their houses spying on their neighbors lets get people outside playing with kids at the park!

  5. Having a person on playground duty – not necessarily a cop, could be a parks employee or even a volunteer – to hand out losable items (jump ropes, chalk) and maybe play with the kids sounds like a good idea all around.

    An advantage of having the police doing it (again, this doesn’t necessarily have to be paid, it could be done on a volunteer basis) is the same advantage of the PAL program – it helps build community ties between the police and the neighborhood.

  6. Interesting idea, but then what happens when the kids get into an argument, won’t share a toy, push someone off a swing, etc? It is the cops job to intervene or just make sure that no one gets kidnapped? Then the parents are going to get made at the cop because “their kid” was there first, the cop picked the other kid over theirs. And heaven forbid a kid gets hurt on the cops watch- who is responsible? Why didn’t the cop stand at the bottom of the slide to catch the kid, why didn’t the cop stop my kid from walking along the fence or climbing that tree? Of course, one would hope that these types of parents would just keep their kids home in the first place…🙂

    I can see too many liability questions cropping up…

  7. Let us dream: Communities are able to organize volunteer “parkies” (able get the programs set up and able to get the volunteers).

    And then we wake up: the background checks… and what if the volunteer isbe a kidnapper!?! (to echo your son : P )

  8. I was just thinking that this would be a perfect job for the neighborhood watch groups and the like and then I had to go and read Beancounter’s post. You are so right, sadly.

    Is there anyway to start this up without going down the rabbit hole of proving a negative? i.e. proving that a person has not and will not do something to a child.

  9. As ideal as that may be, realistically it’s not feasible financially. To have a scheduled officer on site would cost the city money. In my area they are called dubbed “pay duty”, and they get paid about $25/hour. And as politics will have, someone else has to front the cost. That’s the first problem. Another problem would be as Jen put it, what happens if children get into disagreements and maybe get into a fight. Parents will want someone to be liable. Cops patrolling will be the first target.

    This is a community issue. The community needs to work together to make things happen and work. It all starts to with trust for each other, and dedication to the kids. If there are parents who believe in free-range up bringing who support this, and go about organizing something, helicopter parents should leave them well enough alone. ie. not chastise them, or call child services on them, or give them bad press. If they chose to raise their children under rule of fear and paranoia, so be it. But don’t spread the “disease”.

  10. @ David, way upthread…

    Great point and comparison!

  11. For once, Honolulu does something right. At larger neighborhood parks, the Park manager is there after school hours (til ~5 pm) and they do just what you’re suggesting — provide a minimal of adult supervision (i.e., if someone gets hurt) and lend out equipment (balls, mostly). I never thought of that being unusual, but I guess it is.

  12. I think this could be a great idea in small towns or urban areas where neighborhood cops patrol on foot. But I think it’s important it isn’t sold as a cop “on duty” as a playground guard but done more along the lines of the neighborhood cop basing his/her activities out of the park during certain hours. I think it would be way too expensive, especially at the moment to have a cop at every park for several hours a day if they can’t also respond to other incidents in the vicinity. This way, you aren’t introducing a new expense that requires another body and you aren’t promising that they’ll be there constantly. But you will have a greater presence that should provide some reassurance to parents about all those terrible kidnappers, as well as deterring more likely criminals.

    Cops aren’t stupid about human behavior, other than a few who probably won’t last long, they won’t get involved in sorting out petty disputes. It’s not their role and they generally have no desire for it. It’s one of the reasons they’d probably be better than neighborhood watch or a volunteer group. Police departments are also well insured and used to handling complaints. They won’t go broke the way a parks department or volunteer group might if someone does decide to sue for something specious.

    The problem I see is convincing police departments to change their priorities. There are a lot of people wanting extra police attention in different areas. To get the time spent on this, something else will have to lose it.

  13. My first concern was like Jen said. Where do we draw the line of what is a cop’s responsibility to the kids? It could go either way. Let’s say 2 kids get in an argument, and the cop doesn’t step in and help them settle it. Parents would get mad because they weren’t doing their “job” of watching out for the kids. Now let’s say he DOES step in. I’d be mad he didn’t let my kid work it out on their own.

    Seems like the only way it would work would be to have parents signing forms that clearly state what the cop will and won’t do. But how do you keep track of that?

    Plus, my neighborhood has a LOT of parks. It would take up our whole police force to watch them all, which means open season for other crimes from 2-5 or whatever.

    I think parkies or neighborhood watch is a better idea, if we could get people to do it on a volunteer basis. Maybe organize a NW meeting and set up a rotation of one hour at a time for the adults so they can still get grown up things done, but kids get to play. And this would help teach kids that they can ask an adult for help, plus help them get to know the adults in the neighborhood. Hmmm… Maybe I should discuss this with some parents in my neighborhood…

  14. Do we really want the police babysitting? That sounds pretty expensive and I’d much rather hire someone I know. Lenore’s son is right about the cop could be just as bad as any stranger, but that’s not my biggest objection. I don’t want my kids growing up thinking the police should be watching everybody all the time. Anyone read 1984? The police in our country are tasked with responding to crimes – they can’t completely prevent them, nor can they prevent whatever else parents are afraid might happen. Stuff happens to kids even if their parents are right there (I’ve had one break her leg within arm’s reach of dad). Having a police officer nearby instead of a parent won’t make them any more or less safe. The kids who are independent enough to go to the park unsupervised will still be fine; the kids who aren’t independent enough will still be not ready, regardless of who else is at the park. Same for a park manager or any other adult, with or without a background check….

  15. I’m not a fan of the idea….we don’t need cops at the playgrounds…we need children in numbers. That being said, there are LOTS of teenagers/college kids out there begging for minimum wage work. I’d love to see some of them employed to roam the parks and handle equipment and maybe first aid supplies. However, I don’t think this is a government responsibility – it would need to be sponsored by somebody rather than put on the tax rolls.

  16. this is a great idea. unfortunately though, once kids start getting hurt or in playground rumbles and skinned knees and bruises, (much the way they’re supposed to when they are kids), i fear the lawsuits will start again, much the same way kids in schools and other kid facilities and eventually you’ll be signing disclaimers with the city for your kid to use the park.

  17. I am reminded of one of my first trips to Europe as – gasp – an unaccompanied minor, many years ago. I was surprised, because it was not commonplace in the U.S. at the time, to find uniformed police standing around at the airports brandishing large automatic weapons, in places like Italy and Spain (the primary concern at that time was “domestic” separatist groups rather than international terrorism).

    But the important question is – did the show of police force make me feel like I was safer? Quite to the contrary. They served as a stark reminder that there was some theoretical risk of an attack. It could be that police on playgrounds could have much the same effect on kids and parents alike. Those skittish hover parents might be even less inclined to send their kids to the park in an area which “required” police protection.

  18. Some random thoughts…
    First, the police do a drive by past our corner park very regularly. That’s in part because there have been problems there with homeless guys and drunks, but it would be nice to see the police (esp. in urban areas like where I live) add all the play parks to their routes for general checking in. That should be what community policing is all about. However, I agree with what others said about that being expensive and that it could create problems where people think that the police are responsible for every aspect of kid safety or that parks without a cop hanging around aren’t safe. I also would say that any programs that did this should have training for the police on what to look for (and what not to put their noses in).

    Second, here in DC where I live there are many, many parks that are technically “rec centers” – but the rec center is little more than a little brick room with a ping pong table and some art supplies. Still, it’s staffed all afternoon and often for part of the day on weekends, so there is an adult there, checking on the kids and there in case there’s an emergency. It doesn’t clear up all problems (teenagers at the rec ctr near us still play dice on the outside steps behind the park and smoke pot, especially once the rec people leave) and it’s not realistic for all parks, but having some parks staffed on some level may make parents feel more comfortable leaving their school aged kids there.

    Finally, this made me think of how I wish, wish, wish there were more Adventure playgrounds in this country. This was a (very hippie-type) movement in the 60’s to create playgrounds that were kid constructed. Because of the complexity in actually building a playground, the model for such spaces included an actual staff – either paid or volunteers. These weren’t babysitters and they weren’t there to interfere with what the kids were doing or follow them around or anything like that. They were just there to make sure nothing too crazy or unsafe went on and to offer guidance when needed. I don’t think people back then were thinking about random kidnappings and the like, but obviously, having a staff person nowadays would probably alleviate those fears. I know that’s a little off topic, but the idea of having a sort of “park supervisor” made me think of these playgrounds which had that as a concept built in already.

  19. Most cop’s are stationed at a central office, which made sense way back when. But now, with technology, they can be sitting anywhere and get dispatched or whatever. Setup a parking space or something reserved for the cops that are “on duty” and they can keep eyes on parks, ticket speeders, and respond to emergencies in that neighborhood. They would be physically closer, and faster to respond.

  20. My youngest brother (now 23) is paid (I think by the town, but I could be wrong) on a part time basis to hang out at the park, generally keep an eye on things, hand out equipment, etc. No liability or other catastrophes so far, and he loves getting paid to hang out in the park which is probably where he’d be anyway.

  21. Lenore, I love you, but this is a stupid idea!! Freerange, remember? Freerange means the kids get to PLAY! Get to explore and huddle together and make plans and to argue and fight and make up and to comprise and climb trees and wade in ponds and kick a ball and say naughty words and giggle about them and feel quite grown up and capable and selfconfident.

    And all because there are NO GROWNUPS to interfere in their play. No grown up to tell them how to play, or to be nicer to Timmy when Timmy is being a prat, or not to say such nasty words or oh, there is a stain on your cheek, just let me rub it away and all the thousand things adults do to take the wind out of the kids sails and make them dependant on adults to wipe their noses for them instead of learning to grow into capable young people.

    That is one.

    Second, what are you doing? Wasn’t the whole point that this ‘outside the home there are dozens of Strangers TM ready to snatch our preshius when we’re not there right next to him to protect him’ was a myth? A baseless worry? And now you’re suggesting to pander to that stupid baseless fear? Because that is the message you’d be sending. “We need a COP right next to our children because it wouldn’t be SAFE for them to play with eachother in the park”.

    Rubbish!!!

  22. Parkies! What an iidea. I guess I did not realize that they do not exist anymore. I was school ager (Green Bay, WI) in the late 70’s / early 80’s and we always had parkies and they were great! They played with us, encouraged exercise, problem solving, cooperation, etc.

  23. I grew up in the days of the parkie and I spent every afternoon, and probably all day during the summer, unsupervised in the playground across the street from my apartment building in The Bronx. Yes, I grew up in The Bronx in the seventies and eighties. There were rough kids. There were fights. And scrapes. And I fell on my face once and busted my lip open and WALKED HOME!

    There is something called “street smarts” which people seem to have forgotten about all together, and it’s not a bad thing. It’s about knowing to take care of yourself and serves you really well when you get to college and, say, go to University in a new city or go on an abroad program.

    There were also creepy men and we stayed away from them. Children used to roam in gangs and protect each other. No kid was ever really “alone” at the playground. We were always there as a community and the older kids looked after the younger kids. Kids are not as stupid, weak and helpless as people think they are, if you give them a chance.

  24. I think it’s an interesting idea at the outset, but @David has it right. It goes against the ideal that we learn that the world isn’t the horrifically unsafe place that the media makes it out to be. Stationing a cop at the park screams, “There’s BAD THINGS HERE”.

    However. There are plenty of high schools where community service is part of the diploma, or part of the leadership instruction. Let a teenager be the park guide. Make it clear that he’s/she’s not there to strictly direct play or settle disputes but to be there and have fun with and be a person that the little kids want to be with, to have around as someone to look up to. There might not always be a Park Guide there, but the times he/she’s not, the kids still know each other and can still play together.

    I’m sure this will involve ‘good touch, bad touch’ training, etc. and background checks on 16/17 yo’s, but it’s a start.

  25. First we must determine the bottom-line causes for the empty parks. Is it really all about fear, or are there other, perhaps even larger, factors at play. All I know is this: The parks are not empty in the city I live, and there are no cops on duty.

  26. In our town the police are a prime spreader of fear by giving safety talks on fairy tales like stranger danger and poisoned Halloween candy. They overstate how many cops are needed for an event such as requiring 5 at an art show even though a nightclub in a larger nearby city does just fine by hiring only 2 officers for hundreds of college age drunks.
    This is the same city mentioned in Lenore’s book for overreacting and cutting down some hickory trees instead of putting up a pool cover to deal with a kid allergic to nuts (The news reports never stated if hickory caused a reaction).

  27. @Brian – I used to post with the handle Brian, but I guess I’m going to have to change on this site lest people confuse us🙂

    In my little city (Piedmont CA), the parks are frequently used by an organized group, or are vacant. A semi organized period would be great. A play coach type (well trained high school student) who could lend out equipment, and help resolve competing use disputes (e.g a group of teens want to play soccer and a group of younger kids want to play tag). Of course, having him/her there to call an ambulance should the need arise would help the parents feel less nervous. There’s no need for a cop because nothing ever happens here.

  28. Leaving aside the sheer impossibility of such a thing from a financial perspective (our city just laid off 150 cops, forced contract concessions, AND is limiting police overtime AND only puts one cop in a car), all this idea does is feed into the idea that the world is never, ever safe for kids unless there’s someone nearby to “protect” them.

  29. Oh God no!!!! The number of kids we have charged in juvenile court for what during our youth was just youthful indiscretions punished by a parent is high enough, thank you. I can’t imagine how many kids we’d get hauled into court of playground fights if cops were actually sitting on playgrounds. Instead of allowing my child to be free range, a cop on the playground would ensure that my child was NEVER out of my sight on that playground (she’d probably never even get to go to the playground). Not because I don’t want to be free range but because I fear her being arrested for normal childhood behavior, that while not acceptable is certainly not something I want her taken to juvenile court for.

  30. Sorry, I don’t like this idea either. I don’t want my children to think they have to have a police officer around to be safe. As others have mentioned, it would never happen anyway. There are at least 6 parks within a mile of my house and we live in a big city. Too many parks, too little police officers, and way too much money. I think we just need to keep spreading the word and setting an example for others to follow if they choose.

  31. Related to your post is the whole idea of cops WALKING a beat instead of hiding out in patrol cruisers where they don’t get to know the people in neighborhoods.

    The following short report and the first comment under it are good: “Foot patrol working in Philly”

    copinthehood.com/2010/03/foot-patrol-working-in-philly.html

  32. No thank you. I really don’t want to have to produce proof that my daughter is actually my child for a cop every single time we leave the park (because every single time, she throws the sort of fit that makes strangers suspect she’s being snatched.) It’s hard enough enduring the stares and whispers of other park-goers; dealing with law enforcement would make it unbearable.

    I don’t think this would be such a great thing for parents of non-autistic children, either. A bored cop, stuck at a park all day, with .000001 chance of anything requiring his attention ever happening? Human nature says that void would be filled. It would only be a matter of time before some poor mother who lost her temper at the wrong moment was hauled away and charged with child abuse.

  33. Love it!

  34. I am on the “no” side, as per David:

    There IS a potential downside to such an initiative, in that if we get in the habit of having policemen on guard at playgrounds, it could actually serve to reinforce the false impression that they are NECESSARY.

    And I liked what Mae Mae had to say (“I think we just need to keep spreading the word and setting an example for others to follow if they choose.”). I disagree with Mae Mae’s “just” in that there are all sorts of great kid- and family-friendly activism, not merely “setting an example”, but I think that “setting an example” is superior to the cop plan.

    I think many of us here would agree we’d like to see our kids outside playing in areas that are equipped for them – meaning sometimes good equipment, or areas that have something about them the kids like (like the train tracks here where I live). Or a friendly neighborhood vibe and grownups in the houses keeping an eye out (this is my current neighborhood, where the kids run about outside) NOT just for that “danger” bit but also to feed the kids snacks and help manage conflicts with respect. I have this going on in my neighborhood and I love it. Many of us want those things but I don’t think “seeding” parks with a sole police officer is a useful strategy.

    Keep in mind too the culture of school (which I read 97.5% of kids in this country are enrolled in) sort of sets kids “aside” and corrals them and all that into being segregated and needing supervision and direction. I think the problem is rather a complex one but of course, Lenore’s efforts and the many awesome comments here are always encouraging to read.

  35. Ha! In my last comment I think I used way too many “unnecessary” “quotes”. Will do better next time.

  36. I’m with the other David – it makes cops seem necessary and when they’re not around only an idiot would send their kids to the park. Why do you think they have them there in the first place? Obviously parks are dangerous or police wouldn’t waste scarce resources on protecting them.

  37. Actually I’ve seen this. Growing up the little park next to the library was across from the fire house and down the street from the police station. Both fire fighters and cops would stop by and talk to us.

    Herman park has employees and mounted cops. They stop and talk to the kids, sometimes they even let the kids pet the horses. When we see them at the park or around the zoo – my niece and her cousin always tell them thank you. It puzzles the cops, “who haven’t done anything”. Somehow the two of them got it into their heads since the police protect you you need to say thank you to every cop you see. Kinda of cute.

    The cops in the town I work in have trading cards with their names and info on them. They come and eat lunch with our kids, and hand out the trading cards. The kids love it. The cops do it because they want the kids to see them as a person they can go to when they are in trouble. Not the bad man that takes Mommy and Daddy away. (We have a large number of kids with parents doing time).

  38. Way back when in the magical land of Brooklyn, we had parkies. These guys were mostly city employees riding out the time until they could retire. They were getting paid anyway, so why not put them in charge of the park supplies.

    It worked, mostly. When it didn’t work (i.e. when the guy was too drunk to respond) kids did without and did very well. The parents’ attitude was “Well, kiddo, this is the real world.

    We need parkies again. Who do we talk to to make this happen?

  39. In Canada, Silken Laumann, an Olympian, has organized parents to do what you are saying, overseeing free play at the park. From 3 to 5, a parent (it rotates) will be there so you can send your child to the playground. She thought it was sad that kids were enrolled in so many organized sports and activities without the ability to use their imagination and just have time to PLAY. I think it is a great idea and hope to do this when my little girl is older.

  40. […] unemployment (they will when the “unemployed” turn into the “angry mob”); solve the childhood obesity problem, the reputation of cops, and the made up problem of stranger dan…; it’s not 1967 anymore; basic economics at work (some would argue it’s a less dangerous […]

  41. Not related but I’m steamed and I need to vent. Is there a “vent” page on this blog? We were at archery tonight. A very controlled and safe activity. We have all be given strict rules about how to retrieve arrows (stand BACK and make sure no one is behind you). This evening there was a mom helping her 8yr daughter score. They were standing directly in front of the target, 2nd in line. An older boy (maybe 13 or 14) was pulling out his arrows. They stick, and are hard to pull out. He jerked one and his arm came back and almost hit the girl in the face. That mom chastised the boy for not looking behind him while pulling arrows and next time he must be more careful. And now I’m waiting for her to tell her daug. to stand back. Nope, nothing. And the boy still had more arrows. And there they both stood in his way. And I’m still waiting for her to tell her daug. to move back and watch out. Nothing. At this point I’m tempted to say something – and didn’t. He only had 1 arrow left to retreive. I did go up to the boy after and tell him that she handled it wrong and he agreed (LOL). I still didn’t say anything to that mom and I’m kicking myself for it. But if she chooses to make everyone else responsible for her daughter’s safety (and not teach her daug how to care for herself) then maybe it’s not my place to tell her otherwise. Everyone here will understand. Thank you.

  42. Okay, I understand why some of you “think” if cops are present in parks people might assume they’re necessary. But don’t we expect to see policeman at venues where lots of people congregate? City festivals? State fairs? Football and baseball games at stadiums or even high schools? Malls? Along parade routes?

    So, I tend to think if police are visible at certain LARGE parks, it would be thought of as normal. But the park police on duty would need to be chosen because they were family men or women who like to be around people. They need to be kind and pleasant.

    Small neighborhood parks with no policemen would then be seen as places so safe policemen weren’t necessary. But it would still be nice if a couple policemen would stop by to eat their lunch and chat with whomever was there.

  43. Thank you, honey. I am prouder of you than you will ever know. Granny Deb, founding mother of the Boston HOME Club.

  44. I don’t know, I would think it would reduce kids’ feeling of independence and sponteneity. How is having a cop watching any better than having a parent hovering? I thought the point was that kids work and play differently when they are not under the constant scrutiny of an adult.

  45. @ rhodycat and others…

    Stationed college-ish kids is what we have here in the summer. Grand Rapids (although the jerks are threatening to keep the pools closed this summer) has a program called Recreation Reaps Rewards. Late high-school/college students work for the Park and Rec department. They supervise kids at the playgrounds, monitor balls and jump-ropes, and actually provide the kids with snack/lunch. Most of the parks offer this. Some are at elementary school playgrounds, others at regular parks. Usually the kids also have access to some type of art/craft at some point during the day.

    The monitors make low wage, but the program is no cost to kids and their families. Helps keep the need for cops down on those hot-ass humid summer days we get.

    It would be interesting to see if the program could be slightly expanded, a few weeks on either end of break, just to monitor the after school hours. Hmmm….

  46. If the true reason parents don’t let their kids play in the park is ‘pseudo’ security then perhaps this will work, but I doubt it. I say pseudo because a cop can’t protect anyone from the crossfire of a drive-by shooting, a driver having a heart attack and their vehicle plowing into the park, or the accidental kid-thrown missile striking the skull at just the right place. Some parents think they CAN control the above (and are lying to themselves if so), or simply do not want to expose them to their perception of the risk (which is ALWAYS > reality).

    Some parents are concerned about injury – essentially preventing the kid from doing something the parent deems ‘risky’ – and this acceptable risk varies parent to parent. A cop won’t and shouldn’t do day care and enforce a specific level of play.

    Then you have the kid issue – with mom hanging out with me I’d have as much fun in the park as I did when my parents chaperoned a grade-school dance (while asking about the GPA and nature of the parents of any girl I even talked to.

    Probably even worse is technology – texting, gaming, web surfing, 115 channels, and DVR means that there is always some form of completely kid-acceptable entertainment available. When I was a kid, we had nothing but books, hobbies, and occasionally something ‘good’ on TV. But since it rains here more than Seattle you wanted to keep those indoor activities for those times.

    Some parents just have no clue. When their kids ARE allowed to play, they still need to know WHAT it is that they are playing or doing. A few weeks ago some local parent freaked out on a guy who was tearing down a ‘treehouse’ their kid built on (not their own) private property – one attached to the trees ‘securely’ with a few drywall screws. The parent should be expected to teach their child about private property and most certainly be supervising AND knowledgeable of the safe construction of the thing.

    If by some chance, this idea is tried and works, the real implementation should be similar to a block parent organization – some trained and background-checked volunteer armed with a police radio would be just as effective.

  47. I remember parkies, there used to be people organizing games and arts and crafts, that was cool.

  48. I have a couple concerns with this idea… While I don’t agree that a cop would be expected to step into children’s arguments (I think this could be pretty firmly established as not their job unless it gets violent) I do worry that stationing a cop at a playground sets up expectations of responsibility, and therefor inevitable liability nightmares. When a kid breaks his arm, that cop WILL get in trouble, it’s just a question of how much.

    My other concern would be an over zealous cop who, in spite of his own presence as a safety measure, assumes the world is a perv trap and starts lockin up the parents of unattended 12 year olds. From the stories I’ve heard, cops are often the LEAST open to the free range message.

  49. Frankly, I would worry a lot more about leaving my children under the supervision of an unknown police officer than I would leaving them unsupervised. Stranger danger is overinflated, but the aggression, violence, and abuse of power carried out by the police is a daily reality for many people – especially those of us who aren’t white in an area where most of the police are.

  50. My other concern would be an over zealous cop who, in spite of his own presence as a safety measure, assumes the world is a perv trap and starts lockin up the parents of unattended 12 year olds. From the stories I’ve heard, cops are often the LEAST open to the free range message.

    This brings up a good point IMO. I have also found police officers to be very skeptical re: free range.

  51. I agree with Kelly, Squibke and other pp’s. I expect I’d get a phone call from said cop complaining about how I’m not at the park with my kids. I’m way more afraid of cops than I am of kidnappers. Our law enforcement and legal system terrify me. A quick glance at some of the appalling miscarriages of justice we’ve seen on FreeRange Kids clearly indicates that cops aren’t very sympathetic to the notion of unsupervised kids.

    Julie

  52. Doesn’t sound like a good idea to me, although it might help get more kids to the parks.

    It would be too expensive and it is just not necessary!

  53. Actually, I do agree that an adult should be… let’s say approachable for the kids. But part of what makes kids become independent is being able to explore _without_ being watched or sheperoned all the time. Especially not by a cop! Hell, pushing borders and doing this or that which is not exactly legal (given that no matches or weapons are involved, ;-)) is (and should be) part of growing up… Kids need the chance not to have adults around. Although of course, they need parents who at least have an idea about what they are up to. And parents who trust their kids enough not to get into _too_ much trouble,😉.

    So, a cop in the park would be okay, but _not_ one who’ll be around _all the time_ or with the explicit purpose of watching over the playground.

    So long,
    Corinna

  54. Why does it have to be a cop?

    In our local park, I suppose I’m effectively a “parkie”.
    I’m always there supervising (from a nearby bench, they play alone) my 3yo twins, and the older kids can approach me if there’s a problem (and have done in the past with bloody knees, asking for help crossing the road, etc).

    I never intervene in their games uninvited, unless it’s impinging on my own children – they might be asked to take their boisterous ballgame away from the toddlers’ area – but I have approached children who have fallen from their bikes and made sure they are ok.

    And when my children are old enough to go out to play without me, I’m counting on there being other mothers of toddlers/babies at the park, so the circle can continue…

  55. I think some of the readers who are complaining “we don’t need a copy to look after our kids” are missing the point. Of course we don’t, and we all know that, but we are a small, small minority. I take my kids to local parks all the time and I never see kids without their parents–never, never, never–and this is in the trusting little town of Chapel Hill. A cop at the park might start to change that dynamic.

    And, that being said, I completely agree with the reader who said it ain’t gonna happen during a budget crisis.

  56. I live in a large suburb outside Chicago. The community is diverse and I love it.

    One thing I DO notice, many children are alone at the parks and school playgrounds. It makes me happy to see teenagers playing basketball and young children playing kickball.

    Anyway, I believe as a community we should be on the look out. Cops can not be in the “right place at the right time” and believe me there are a lot in my area (unfortunately). A few years back, I saw a couple young girls playing at a park alone. That part didn’t bother me. What DID bother me was observing a man alone in his car watching them. At first I thought I shouldn’t be so quick to assume the worst. BUT my conscience could not stop me from calling the police. I wasnt hystercial, I just mentioned that a man was watching these girls quite intently…in his car…it gave me the creeps (He was not of the same race as these girls so being a relative was out of the question). I’m not sure if anything came of it (and I hope it was not a big deal), but I DO know I could not live with myself if these girls were harmed or if this man used watching them to “get his jollies”.

    Anyway, I do think a police presence could help at times…but a community watching out for its’ young is crucial and FREE.

  57. I have been trying to get beat cops again for a long time. This would solve two problems. Cops on the beat and children in the park. Two problems one solution

  58. I do enjoy beating people at their own ridiculous games, but I don’t like this idea. Putting cops in parks only reinforces the notion that they are necessary, and that’s moving the whole social situation in the direction opposite to which it rightfully needs to go. Heli-cops would just validate all the helicopter parents and other assorted hysterics. The exception would be perhaps if a park is in a demonstrably dangerous area, such as a drug-invested inner-city location – then it would seem more appropriate. But those are the types of areas typically characterized by shortages of municipal resources in the first place.

  59. I agree with those who say that towns just don’t have the money for this. Given that last weekend I tried to drop off some lost property at the local police station, and had to wait half an hour for an officer to arrive (he was out on the beat) and sign for it – the station only had one dispatcher present, no officers. It doesn’t seem like they have the personnel to spare.

    I remember there being cops in large parks in UK when I lived there. In fact I got an official written warning once from a cop for walking in a fenced-off area in Hyde Park as a student. So I’m not sure cops in parks are conducive to free range….

  60. One of my first jobs was a mobil recreation director. I was 18-20 years old, my partner and I drove around to playgrounds, 3 in our town. Often we would pull in and the kids would be waiting for us. We had balls, jump ropes, checkers, chess, Sorry, and once in a while we made cotton candy.
    Sometimes if the kids had the .50 we were suppose to charge we took it from them, mostly kids did not have it and we did not sweat it.
    No matter the weather, or time of year between 3 and 5:30p.m. kids showed up, hung out, and played together and with us. I am pretty sure that cities have recreation departments and play grounds. Cops cost quite a bit more than college kids who need a small pay check and are way cooler than cops to hang out with.

  61. Would the cop be armed? Carry a nightstick, taser, or handcuffs? Do people honestly think those would make a space safer?

    More questions: Would it be a young cop annoyed that she was essentially put on pool-lifeguard duty when she could be building a career, or an older cop who resented being given a soft assignment because he was perceived to be past his prime? Wouldn’t police officers be a bit insulted that anyone thought all their extensive training and experience should go into monitoring the swing set? Wouldn’t this whole scenario make for a bad film comedy a la “Kindergarten Cop”?

    If it’s just the uniform some folks want to see, then fine–get a very official looking uniform for the parks department summer intern. Or better yet, put Rick Sanchez in a spiffy uniform, slap a badge on him, and assign him to a playground. What? He says he already has a job to do, and this doesn’t match his skills at all? Exactly.

  62. No, cops aren’t the solution, though, on paper, it looks like a good one.

    When I was a kid, my mother was a Neighbourhood Watch mom. We had a sign in our window so anyone, kid, teen or adult, knew that they could come to our home in the event they were ever in sketchy situation.

    We need to revitalize this.

    Also, EVERY park had a “Supie” or Park Superintendent, an older teen or college student who worked with the kids playing, offering organized games, crafts, sing songs, field trips and keeping the riff raff at bay (and, believe me, in the 70’s there were a fair number of stoner kids hanging around the park edges).

    Our local neighbourhood association brought a Supie back to the park a few blocks away. This will be the first summer I’ll feel comfortable letting my 7 year old stay at the park alone for long stretches. I did it once when he was 5 for about an hour, but was worried about him being aggressive (his coping mechanism when in stressful situations).

    Bring back the Supies and Parkies! Bring back the Neighbourhood Watch!

  63. Oops, it was the Neighbourhood Watch programme, it was the Block Parent programme!

    If you are in Canada, here is the site: http://www.blockparent.ca/index.htm. I don’t know if the US has a similar programme, but I encourage everyone in Canada to apply to be a Block Parent, start a group in your city.

    This is how we can take action to rebuild a our children’s independence.

  64. We had a family game of kickball last night in the culdesac. I am very sore today, though. Anyway, two neighbor kids joined us after a while. NO OTHER ADULTS~! What about parents getting outside and playing with their kids? That is what these kids really need, in my opinion. We are too busy on the internet, watching TV, cleaning and reading to be involved with our kids in a fun way. I am just as guilty at that as most parents, but am determined to be different.

  65. I don’t think it’s a bad idea, but as other posters here have pointed out, there are liability issues, cost issues, and really, it shouldn’t fall on just the shoulders of the police to keep playgrounds a safe place for communities to use. Ideally, there would be some kind of overlap/cooperation between community initiatives and support from the local police – as it’s been pointed out, having the cops be involved would be a good way to strengthen the ties and familiarity between the cops who patrol the area and the people who live there/use community spaces.

  66. I have to say I agree with everyone above, that this isn’t the answer. In addition to all the potential issues already mentioned, I would be concerned about those parents that wouldn’t drop off their kids w/o a cop, but suddenly would if there was a police presence. My gut tells me they would have a completely unrealistic expectation of the cop’s level of responsibility / liability, and would not have made the effort necessary to teach their child *how* to be unsupervised. Let’s not forget — they’re the same parents who believe every accident is preventable. The ones who have created a climate wherein my son’s daycare teacher has to complete a form for me to sign explaining how every bump, scratch and bruise on my 2.5 year old occurred. (Personally, I’d be more concerned about my son’s welfare while at daycare if he did NOT come home with some bumps and bruises!)

    I think the real answer to the problem is the tougher road. The road you’re already on, Lenore. The one you are working so hard to show to the rest of us. It’s called education…. fact over fiction… mother’s being brave enough to trust their children.

  67. (He was not of the same race as these girls so being a relative was out of the question)

    While you’re probably right, have you never heard of adoption? Mixed-race families? (This goes both ways – some biracial girls look more or less “white” even if they have very dark-skinned relatives.)

  68. Love the site, Lenore but, I gotta admit, you missed the mark on this one.

    Not only would having a cop on hand at the park reinforce the notion that the world is a more dangerous place than it really is but, having a cop around to keep things in order is also the antithesis of self-sufficiency and only serves to perpetuate the notion that we must rely on the government to maintain our happiness. Therefore, this teaches our kids the wrong message twice.

    We’d be further ahead to practice a little altruism (you watch out for my kid and I’ll watch out for yours) when appropriate and try to grow the community a little more.

    Keep up the good work w/ the site.

  69. One cop in a park negates the free range idea? No.
    The cop won’t be picking stickball teams. He won’t be arbitrating “one potato two potato,” he won’t be umpiring games of tag. Kids will be kids and, like most adults you’ll see in the park, won’t be doing more than looking out. Plus, this will reinforce the idea that cops are FRIENDS, LIKE kids, and CAN BE TRUSTED. This is a win win all around.

  70. And better yet, what is wrong if the police bring PSAL events to the park?

  71. I’m sorry but I’m going to completely ignore the point of this article because Sanchez has no idea what he’s talking about.

    I lived in Atlanta for 6 years and being home with 2 young children and a husband who had to work long hours, I made it my personal mission to visit as many parks in the city & surrounding metro area as possible in order to maintain my sanity. The parks in Atlanta are NOT empty. If he truly believes that, he needs to get involved in one of the many fine mom’s groups in the area and attend one of the regularly schedule play days during the work day. Or visit any playground in Decatur/Toco Hills/Northlake after the school bells ring because I guarantee you, they are crawling with kids.

    The only major times I saw empty playgrounds were during air quality alerts (there are many days in the summer you simply can’t take young or asthmatic children out because the pollution is so bad in Atlanta) or during the hottest part of the day in the summer months (because, you know, plastic is rather scorching when it’s been baked at 102deg for a few hours). Sure if he’s driving by on his lunch hour or on his way home from work at dinner time I bet they are empty because the kids are at home eating and napping. Duh.

  72. Parks never interested me as a kid, and I had a great childhood. Today, parks are even worse – totally dead. In his book, “Children at Play: An American History,” Howard Chudacoff describes how the “Playground Movement” of the early 20th Century was an attempt by adults to control children’s play and redirect it from the streets.

    Because they can’t drive, and because there will never be enough parks for most children to roam to on their own (99% of America is nothing like New York City!), children’s playspaces must be right outside their front doors, in their neighborhoods. That’s what I preach on my site, Playborhood.com.

  73. I definitely don’t think cops should be stationed at playgrounds. Most municipalities, urban ones anyways, need to have their cops available for crimes. If a cop was specifically stationed at a park, that would mean he couldn’t leave for a larger emergency. That’s not to say that they shouldn’t drive by parks as a regular part of their beat. In my neighborhood, we pay an additional fee ($100) annually to have cops dedicated to our neighborhood. They may be called upon for larger issues in the district, but when they are just patrolling, they are are patrolling our neighborhood.

    An organization in my city paid for teachers and other school staff to stay on after school and on weekends as monitors at the school playground. Most school playgrounds are locked outside of school hours here. It was successful and provided neighborhood kids a place to play. As school employees, they had already been through background checks (at least in theory). The parents did have to sign a waiver at the outset, but kids were free to come and go unsupervised. When the program ended (it was a research effort), they tried to get a local church or community group to take it over. Not sure how that worked out. The plus to something like this is that it can NORMALIZE the behavior. Right now, too many parents don’t see kids going to a playground on their own as normal behavior. It will take efforts to make it normal behavior once again.

  74. How about “Adopt-a-Park,” along the same lines as “Adopt-a-Highway” programs, but draw the potential adopters from local retiree groups and community organizations? The volunteers would handle scheduling and the city or town could put up a sign saying “Adopt-a-Park courtesy of Our Town Lions Club and Our Town Friends of the Library.”

  75. I think having beat cops walk around a neighborhood, including the parks would be a great idea; better relations between the public & cops is always good and I think that having kids (&adults) interact with police in places and at times where there is no crisis is a good thing. There was usually a cop somewhere around the park where we spent our days in Brooklyn; I think it was stationed there when the cops didn’t have a radio call for somewhere else. I never saw it as a bad thing. Once, a friend of mine got a ride home from a policman because his bike tire got flat. He was going to be late for dinner if he walked all the way home, so he looked for the police car and asked the policeman for help. He thought the cops would call his parents, but they put his bike in the trunk and drove him home. Letting kids know that it is ok to ask a policeman for help is good.

    For various reasons already mentioned, having a cop be a “parkie” wouldn’t work, but I think the idea in general is good. In this economy, though, I bet there would be a lot of people who like kids who would love to volunteer for this (wait a minute . . . if they are doing this w/o being paid they must be pedaphiles, says my inner-smart alec child ….)

    David, I don’t think the life guard analogy is a good one. Drowning is a real danger, especially at the beach where the currents can be unpredictable. If I was doing the budget for a town and I had to choose between an adult at every park and one life guard at the community pool or town beach, I would pick the life guard. I allow my 8-year-old daughter to roam our township’s pool club freely (since she was 7 and with some supervision when she was 6) because I know that 1. she is aware of water safety issues and 2. I trust the life guards at the pool (teens and young adults who range in age from 16 through college). I would not allow her to do so if there were no life guards. I would allow my child to roam a park with no adult present.

    Jane, I don’t think Rick Sanchez wants to get involved in a mom’s group or attend a scheduled play date. I think he wants kids to just get out and play.

  76. Ok I’m obviously seeing this differently that most of you all. I’m not seeing a cop as playground monitor. I’m seeing it as part of a patrol, stop get out walk through, check on things, say hi to the kids.

    I grew up in an area with small villages surrounded by Houston. Often the park for each village is part of the city hall/police station space. It wasn’t strange to see a cop eating lunch at a picnic table.

    At a larger county park near my current home is down the street from a substation. I frequently see cops eating in the picnic areas of the park.

    Also I’m a big supporters of school playgrounds partnering with the city/county parks department. The school near my sister has cool well maintained equipment, track, ball field. During school days the area is restricted to the school students and employees. After hours, and on holidays it is open to the public. The parks department covers the liability insurance. Frequent use by the people of the neighborhood reduces off hours vandalism.

  77. Lenore, Ironically, I was going to write to you about something awesome they do in Japan! My best friend in the Bay Area has a Japanese husband. When he was growing up, all the neighborhood kids would play at the park without adult supervision. A POLICE OFFICER was there the whole day watching the kids, and that was his only job as a police officer. I was going to ask you about this a week ago, but I have been busy moving into my new house (yes, we moved again). I think this is a great idea. However, I have a feeling the police dept would not agree saying they can’t afford it, etc. Too bad some of the money from everyones property taxes couldn’t pay for a police officer on duty at parks.

  78. I wouldn’t call it doable. There are ten playgrounds in a three mile radius from me. In the county as a whole there are probably 200 or more playgrounds. You’re going to have 200 cops emplyed for four hours from 3-7 hanging out at the playground? I’m sorry, but, don’t they have better things to be doing? Cops don’t walk a beat in the suburbs – it’s not like the city – they drive long distances, cover a lot of area, respond to crimes, investigate, occasionally deal with directing traffic, etc. I don’t seeing it being very practical. I see it being very expensive. There are just far too many parks where a kid might be playing.

  79. What a great job for those that are retired!? I wonder if some “grandmas and grandpas” would volunteer for that or if the city, where I live, could obtain some kind of grant to facilitate this?

    Still…. kids do GREAT on their own and our play grounds are always full.

  80. Hey, Lenore! Reading your postings and the comments is a little like hanging around with the grown-ups at the playground while the kids run around. (I am happy to be able to say that the parks where I live are well used!) This discussion had me thinking about whether or not we could organize “parkies” in our community. (I like the sentiment that walking the playground might be a way to reintegrate police into the community, but I think it will take a lot more to reinvent what it means to police. Not least the will of the public in general and the police themselves. Please persuade me that I am wrong in the age of Homeland Security.)

    That said, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that our small city already offers a “drop-in playground” at the city’s main / largest park during the summer, which I hear is really popular. (My older daughter is finishing K now, which is why I imagine I did not know about this program.) Here is the description:

    Playground attendants supervise children in a host of fun summertime games and arts and crafts projects that utilize the park’s various amenities and open spaces. All activities are geared to build self-esteem, confidence, and social skills while subtly emphasizing fitness, health, and safety.

    It sounds a bit more like summer day camp than open play time – families are required to register – but it is free (which means you could use or not use the program as much as you liked), open to kids in K-6 (with high school and college students working as the attendants), and runs for 7 weeks on weekdays from 9 to 4 (at a well equipped and well tended park). So, it sounds like a terrific option to me as a working parent!

  81. The cop is not necessary in the park and putting one there only reinforces the misconception that a cop is needed.

    I do, however, think there is value in the cops getting to know the kids on their beat. When I was a kid our local cops (very small town in Northern Wisconsin) would swing by the parks or school play ground and pitch a few innings of kickball or baseball. It created a pretty nice relationship between the kids and the cops.

  82. Also, how does injecting an adult supervisor comport with the ideas of free-range? Kids are already overly reliant on adults to solve their problems. They need places where they are forced to think and problem solve on their own.

  83. Ugh, I’ll take the park without the cop watching us like a hawk, thanks. I’d rather have a mom state than a police state.

  84. I live in a community just outside of Milwaukee, Wi where we DO have ‘parkies!’ The rec dept staffs the school playgrounds in the summer months with college kids who ensure safety, start games, etc. so parents can send their kid to the playground to play.

  85. I live in Vancouver (Lower Mainland), BC, Canada and some neighbourhoods here DO have “parkies”! But really only during the summer months – but it’s something! They are teenagers hired by the community centres adjacent to the parks, and they face-paints, organize games, provide directions to washrooms, etc. You can’t just drop off your kids and expect them to be babysat, but the teens certainly do create a great environment!!

    Having a cop stationed at a local playground for a few hours at a time here would be a “nice to have”, but really, as a parent, I think it’s overkill.

  86. This is a great article, very helpul…thanks Iskenazy

  87. We recently spent a couple of months with our kids in Tokyo where every playground has one or more senior citizens as park attendants. I don’t know if this was a paid or volunteer position, but it was nice to have someone around to enforce the rules, loan out toys, provide a band-aid, make change for the vending machine,etc. I also thought it was nice to see these older adults connecting with children and their communities.

  88. I love the idea of kids, parents, business people, community workers, the elderly, migrants, police AND dogs using public spaces. . . I love the idea of community building, getting people outside together “the village raising the child” and giving parents a much deserved break when needed. Busy parents however, may also benefit from a play on the park swing and a chat with the other busy parents in the neighbourhood who dont get time to exercise or enjoy in the fresh air.
    Kids love to get outside when you dont give them a choice , especially if parents are positive about it and there’s the opportunity to ” run amuck” with other kids. There are local council youth workers, workers in non government community orgsnisations youth programs , lonely elderly people, neighbourhood/ community Houses. . Motivated community members and parents who could share the job of watching teaching and participating with kids.. I also agree it would be g8 to have an occassional friendly visit from a police officer. Would do a great deal for their image and community/ police relations

  89. I haven’t had a chance to read all of the other comments yet…but to register mine…
    My husband is in law enforcement in a town of roughly 50,000. During the day there are usually 4 officers patrolling this town (there are others working in other capacities during the day, just not on patrol). They are understaffed and underfunded. I would much rather he be out “fighting crime” than babysitting kids at a park. All officers on duty could be at a park and there would still be 10 parks that don’t have a police officer nearby…
    I think “park patrol” would be better for neighbors/neighborhood watch folks.

  90. Bad idea. I agree with David

  91. nYNuoa That’s not just the best answer. It’s the bestest answer!

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