Ask a Dispatcher
Q. I recently saw a woman in a parking lot screaming and hitting her very young child. Another person stepped in and tried to calm the lady down. It worked for a few minutes but we were all very concerned for the child's safety. Who can I call if I see something like this again? If we don't know the person's name, what can we provide for someone to check on the child?
Dear Juneau Resident,
The best thing to do is call JPD and report the incident. Physical discipline is legal but child abuse is not. It takes an investigation to figure out what happened that led to the scene you witnessed and also to see if the child shows signs of abuse, like bruises in areas that are not Ďleadingí edges and associated with playing or falls, or shows other signs of neglect. Yes, children are abused in Juneau and more than most people know.
You can be a good witness even if you donít know the person. Try to get the license plate number of any car the adult is driving or riding in. Get a good description of the adult and child, including height, weight, approximate age, and clothing.
Listen carefully to what is said. It could be very helpful to the investigating officer to know what the adult was screaming. The adult may tell police the child harmed a sibling or ran away and was almost hit by a car and that was why the child was punished. You may have heard the adult yelling about the child having a bathroom accident in his pants, a common trigger for abuse. Also, make an internal decision that should the case go to court, you are willing to stand up and testify about what you saw. One of the worst situations JPD sees is when someone was victimized and a whole bunch of people decided they donít want to be involved.
JPD works closely with the Office of Childrenís Services (OCS). Cases are screened daily in dispatch for child involvement and many are referred to OCS. OCS will look at the JPD investigation and may or may not do their own investigation. The person you saw may already have open cases with JPD or OCS and the incident you witnessed was more significant than you thought, like the person wasnít supposed to be around the child without court approved supervision.
Itís always best to err on the side of protecting children or anyone else who canít reasonably lobby for themselves, like vulnerable adults. Report situations immediately and donít worry that some people might think you are over-reacting.