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  1. #1
    Senior Member BikeMomTn's Avatar
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    Police "judgement" versus Law

    Wow, it's been a long time since I posted on the forums! I am in desperate need of help though (and some need to vent!). Today my 10 year old daughter gets brought home by a police officer stating it is his 'judgement' that it is unsafe for my daughter to ride her bike to school and home again. During my conversation with the officer I learned she was obeying all designated laws (federal and local), her helmet was securely fastened and properly fitting, she was not riding in an unsafe manner, nor breaking any law. He informed me that if I continued to allow her there would be "problems". He explained to me that part of his job is public safely, and again in his opinion her riding her bicycle to school and home is "unsafe"; further stating that she has a bus available to ride, she needs to utilize it. If she was 14 or 15 it would be a different story of course (his opinion).

    Humorously he requested my presence at the curb without asking if the children were old enough to be left unattended inside the house (sure public safety). At this point I told him I am well aware of the bicycle laws in the state of Tennessee for children under 40 inches/40 pounds, children under the age of 12 and adult cyclist. He (politely might I add) explained to me that although no law was broken in his judgement it was unsafe for her to walk or ride her bike to school and will be filing a report with child protection services for my decision to allow her. I really felt like he was...threatening me with child protective services if I didn't follow his directive.

    First of all I don't believe there is a blanket age when a child is able to ride their bike to school and environment does play some role. I live in a very small rural town and her ride home does not entail any major intersection crossings. The intersection at the school is heavily trafficked however she dismounts and walks her bicycle across the street. I do not allow her to ride when it is dark for her ride either to or from school nor do I allow her to ride in inclement weather conditions (fog, rain, snow, extreme cold, etc.).

    Before allowing her to even begin riding, we put her through a bicycle safety course, proper hand signal usage and rode the route she is to take with her numerous times to ensure she was able and respectful of road conditions. She makes excellent eye contact with drivers and (for a 10 year old) rides very defensively. She has been riding since age 3 and has grow up in an active cycle family so a great deal of this she takes as second nature.

    I told the officer he is welcome to call child protective services, but it is my judgement as her mother that she is responsible enough and able to ride her bike the 1 mile to and from school that I have taken all safety precautions possible to ensure her safety. Additionally, I have called and left a message with his supervisor because as I previously said I feel I am being threatened with child protective services if I don't just say "yes officer, of course your right".

    I would love some suggestions/comments on this please. My goal is to prevent other parents in my area from going through this also. I have made contact with safe routes to school in an attempt to establish a program for the school my children attend. What other options do I have?

  2. #2
    incazzare. lostarchitect's Avatar
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    Did you get his name and badge number? I'd file a complaint with the supervisor.
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  3. #3
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    Welcome to the world that comes with "It takes a village to raise a child..."

    Makes one nostalgic for the old days when children were considered the "property" of their parents who could treat them as they wished...

  4. #4
    2 Fat 2 Furious contango's Avatar
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    Living in a different country I can only speculate, although I might be tempted to preempt the situation by talking to child protection directly for yourself, maybe wording your query along the lines of "my 10-year-old loves to ride her bike and wants to ride to and from school but I'm concerned for her safety... the roads are quiet and all that but I don't want her coming home in a body bag" or some such. If you can get them to confirm any guidelines in writing it could take the wind out of this guy's sails. Then file a copy of it with your complaint to his superiors.

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    Your in the right.

    I hear these stories more and more.What is this world coming to when a 10 year old can't ride a bicycle to school.

    There are age/weight limits for riding a bicycle in TENN.....REALLY?

    12 year olds can fly planes across the U.S. but 10 year olds are too young to ride a bicycle to school???....My...Oh..MY how we humans mature between those 2 years....

    If this happened to me,there would be smoke coming off the phone lines to the police dept,city council,mayors office,local newspaper and anything else I could think of.I would take what that officer said as a direct threat to my livelyhood.
    Last edited by Booger1; 08-25-11 at 04:11 PM.
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  6. #6
    incazzare. lostarchitect's Avatar
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    Contago, I disagree with the wording. Then there would be a record that the OP was concerned that the behavior was unsafe. If CPS is spoken to, the OP should be clear that she believes her kid is safe and smart, has taken safety courses, wears a helmet, rides a good route, etc, and that the OP believes all's well--and wants to know what to do about people who disagree, like the officer.

    Maybe this officer didn't have a bike as a kid, but who didn't ride around town at 10 years old?! We just stayed off the main roads and were careful, and we're fine. We didn't even wear helmets back then.
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    I would be writing a very angry letter to his supervisor (as you said you have done but maybe not so angry as I would be). I'd also call his supervisor. If there is a formal complaint process I'd use that too. I'd also contact state and local cycling advocacy groups with the whole story -- naming names. This needs to be publicized among the local cycling community.

  8. #8
    Senior Member BikeMomTn's Avatar
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    I am going to speak with his supervisor and the officer states he is filing a report on this. I do intend to keep the report (if he writes it) and a log of different visits regarding this issue. It makes me sad that this society (the US) complains about child obesity, fossil fuel usage, and such but by allowing my child to ride to school and home in appropriate conditions I am subject to being reported to child protective services.

    I live in Elizabethton Tennessee and I have no idea of our local groups around here.
    Last edited by BikeMomTn; 08-25-11 at 03:49 PM. Reason: Local cycle agencies

  9. #9
    2 Fat 2 Furious contango's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lostarchitect View Post
    Contago, I disagree with the wording. Then there would be a record that the OP was concerned that the behavior was unsafe. If CPS is spoken to, the OP should be clear that she believes her kid is safe and smart, has taken safety courses, wears a helmet, rides a good route, etc, and that the OP believes all's well--and wants to know what to do about people who disagree, like the officer.
    Perhaps, my focus would be on the concerned mother wanting to let her little girl have some freedom while keeping her safe. I was thinking in terms of talking to child protection and saying something like "I let my little girl do this but the police said it's dangerous" in which case you've got a record that the OP admitted "endangering" her child. I guess it needs a form of words that makes it clear the OP wants her daughter to have some freedom but stay safe, so perhaps the focus of the question should be more along the lines of "what do I need to do to make sure she's safe" rather than "I think it might be dangerous but I'm letting her do it anyway". Then of course what goes on the record is a concerned mother who made sure her child knows the law and obeys it, wears her helmet, and generally does all the right things but just wants to be sure.

    Maybe this officer didn't have a bike as a kid, but who didn't ride around town at 10 years old?! We just stayed off the main roads and were careful, and we're fine. We didn't even wear helmets back then.
    When I was 10 years old there was no such thing as a cycling helmet. When they first appeared people didn't wear them because they looked stupid. Mind you, even now I see kids riding their bikes with helmets hanging from the handlebars.

  10. #10
    Senior Member Kurt Erlenbach's Avatar
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    You are completely correct - this is a "judgment" call. It's impossible to know if your judgment is correct, because I don't know your child and I don't know her route. But you sound like a well-informed, caring parent who has thought the matter through. One mile is certainly not too far for a ten-year old, and if I were in your shoes I would trust my own judgment over that of a stranger, including a stranger who wears a badge. Stand your ground; the threat to call child services is ridiculous.

  11. #11
    Senior Member BikeMomTn's Avatar
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    I have done everything I can to ensure she is safe. She even has one of those pull string back packs that have a siren in case someone tries to grab her off the bike. I feel like I have done everything possible to make her safe and in the one area is even questionable, we obtained permission from a homeowner to go through a yard rather then a dangerous corner. I am extremely angry about this and I want to keep other parents from going through it also

  12. #12
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    OK -

    First, is this clearly a "riding the bike" issue? or is it one of "unsupervised 10 yr old?'

    Have there been any child abductions, or attempted abductions in your area recently? County? State?

    It is being presented here as "bike" issue - but there clearly could be other concerns.

    Perhaps if the officer had concerns about her safety per potential abduction, he might not wish to state so in front of your daughter.

    If this is merely that he is concerned about her safety as a cyclist, I would tell him to take a hike.

    When he stated "she was not riding in an unsafe manner, nor breaking any law" he clearly takes it into a judgement area, which is a very murky legal arena.`

    I do think you should also pursue this along the lines of "If I chose for my 10 year old daughter to _walk_ to school, am I likely to have a visit from Child Protective Services. Whatever prevails there, I should hope would prevail also for a 10 year old cyclist.

  13. #13
    24-Speed Machine Chris516's Avatar
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    Don't stop at talking with his supervisor, go straight to the police chief! Why, So in the end, you won't have to 'go through the chain of command' and be labeled a complainer, because of every supervisor that doesn't listen. Tell the police chief all the precautions you have taken and what you have done to insure your daughter's safety on her bike.

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    What did he mean by "unsafe"?

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    Quote Originally Posted by BikeMomTn View Post
    I am going to speak with his supervisor and the officer states he is filing a report on this. I do intend to keep the report (if he writes it) and a log of different visits regarding this issue. It makes me sad that this society (the US) complains about child obesity, fossil fuel usage, and such but by allowing my child to ride to school and home in appropriate conditions I am subject to being reported to child protective services.

    I live in Elizabethton Tennessee and I have no idea of our local groups around here.
    Contact Bike Walk Tennessee via http://www.bikewalktn.org/, or, if I read the wikipedia entry correctly, http://bikewalktn.homestead.com/Reg6.html

    Secondly, for what it's worth, I wouldn't contact the local child protection services, since they might well be/probably are even more ignorant about cycling than the officer.

    Thirdly, for what it's worth, you seem to have done a great (and intelligent) job in preparing your daughter for confident, independent travel.

    Finally, for what it's worth, what fell from the officer's lips may have been small and roughly spherical, but pearls of wisdom they weren't. I leave it up to others to decide what was that he was talking.

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    Quote Originally Posted by BikeMomTn View Post
    I live in Elizabethton Tennessee and I have no idea of our local groups around here.
    A quick Google doesn't show a lot. There's a cycling club/team at ETSU. You don't even have a bike shop. You have to go to Johnson or Hampton.

  17. #17
    genec genec's Avatar
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    Just out of curiosity, how many of us rode bikes to school at age 10? I know I did. I was also on the safety patrol. And no, we did not have an adult also on "my corner."

    My neighbor had a paper route at about the same age. Do these even exist any more? I rode the route with him a couple of times... lots of early morning work for "just a kid."

    9 years old was "the magic age" in my family... at 9, (4th grade) you got a bike.

  18. #18
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    you could always have gone the 'ahole' route and called 911 and demanded a supervisor, and depending on how it played out, pressed charges for false arrest, which happened when he forced the child into the police car without just cause. (My dad was an Aux cop here, former MP, and rode with the police a lot before he died. I also used to work for a higher up of the libertarian party. It left me with some unique views)

  19. #19
    Probably Injured beebe's Avatar
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    It sounds like you have your bases pretty well covered. Stick to your guns. Good for you for teaching your kids to safely do the stuff that kids should be doing.

    I would take the opportunity to document as much as possible, just as insurance. Make sure that you have something to show that, yes, your child wears a helmet and, yes, she has been taught how to be safe, etc. This way, in the unlikely event that the officer tries to escalate the situation or if someone at the police department questions your story about your run in, you can wave the evidence in their face. I don't see it being an issue. As far as getting the officer reprimanded or whatever, good luck with it. The best you can do is file a complaint and hope for the best, but in my experience, it's really dependant on the individual departments on how they handle these matters. Some deal with it, some suck.

  20. #20
    Senior Member gcottay's Avatar
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    Since you live in a small town you might want to sit down with the chief of police for a friendly conversation. One of his or her officers seems to be very close to the deep end.
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    Dog is my co-pilot 2manybikes's Avatar
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    It depends on what the cop percieved as "unsafe". It also depends on the environment surrounding the ride. I did not let my kids ride unsupervised at age 10. It depends also on the child. 10 seems too young to me. Not because it was a bike ride, just the time spent alone. But my environment is probably more urban than what you describe. When they were 10 I was along for the ride.
    Ask for more details from the police. If the cop was really going to call child protective services, there may be something you don't know about. An accident, an abduction, bullies, who knows? Maybe the cop has seen a lot of scary things that cause him to be that protective.
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  22. #22
    incazzare. lostarchitect's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 2manybikes View Post
    If the cop was really going to call child protective services, there may be something you don't know about. An accident, an abduction, bullies, who knows? Maybe the cop has seen a lot of scary things that cause him to be that protective.
    If that's the case it would have been as simple as opening his mouth and telling mom about these things. The problem would have been solved instantly.
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  23. #23
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    I have to say that if I were the officer's shoes, my motives would be to see that your daughter was supervised so she wouldn't be kidnapped.

    Kidnappings blow, and would probably involve a lot of time from the PD, and I suppose he was thinking if it can be prevented, all the better. Hence his recommendation for her to take the bus, where she would be supervised. His approach was wrong in the fact that he called her and your parenting out about bicycling, and should have just addressed the sidestepped; her safety for being kidnapped, and trying to cover it up by asserting she can be ran over by a bad motorist while biking.

  24. #24
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    I didn't notice anything about him being worried about abduction. It sounded entirely like he is one of those clueless idiots who thinks that bicycles are dangerous.

    FWIW, most child abductions are by family members or other people that the child knows, not strangers. They are certainly scary but "abducted by strangers" is fortunately relatively rare. Our society has become far too paranoid and far too focused on unusual events.

  25. #25
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    I'd DEFINITELY put in a call to internal affairs. NOTHING makes a LEO more nervous, than having IA on their ass about something.

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