Baby’s first arrest: Explaining law enforcement to kids

Sam Davies and his family witnessed an arrest, and his children were very concerned. But some of their questions weren’t so easy to answer.

Photo by: taberandrew

This past Sunday, like many Northside families, my wife, two daughters, and I decided we’d sit by the side of the road and watch the Big Bike Race™. It was quite pleasant; sitting under the shade of a tree we wait for the BLOOOOOP of a motorcycle to go past, then watch super fast bikes go by with a WHOOOSH, then wait three to five minutes for the cycle to repeat. Not the easiest sport to follow without a helicopter, but not a bad way to spend a weekend afternoon.

And then someone got arrested. This is not a crime blog nor a witness statement, nor are the details of the arrest in anyway newsworthy, so I won’t describe the exact details, but relevant to this article: a person on a bicycle did not follow instructions from a police officer. Another police officer came over to help, gave an ultimatum to this person to follow the instructions, she refused, and was physically removed from her bike and arrested.

Without really thinking (I’ll get back to this in a minute), I ran over to where the arrest was taking place, and at a non-interfering distance, recorded the arrest on my phone. For about ten to fifteen minutes, I stood close by while a very scared citizen was restrained, offered medical attention, searched, then driven off in a police car.

Both other citizens and the police questioned1 why I was recording, and my answer was pretty simple: if I was the one being arrested, I’d want someone to record every second of it for me. I don’t have any judgment as to whether the arrest was warranted or if police procedure was followed, that’s why we have courts. Watching and filming a public arrest doesn’t mean that I automatically choose a “side”, unless that side is transparency. I feel like my actions caused no harm.2

Remember two paragraphs ago where I said I ran over without thinking? Well, I returned to my wife and my five- and eight-year-old daughters, who were visibly affected from having just watched their first arrest. We walked the short walk home and then needed to talk about it.

The basic questions were their highest concerns, and relatively easy to answer: Was she hurt? (Not that I could see, but she was clearly scared. I’d be scared too.) Where are they taking her? (Jail, for a short time, until she can see a judge). When will she get to come home? (Probably that same night). Did she ride in a police car? (Yes). What happened to her bike? (The police put it in the trunk of their car. She will get it back).

The less basic questions were harder to answer. The kids want binary answers I can’t give. “Why didn’t she she do what the police officer told her to?” Well, I don’t know, but it seemed like she felt like what the police officer was telling her to do wasn’t fair. “What was the rule?” It wasn’t really clear, but she’ll have a chance to make her case to a judge that she didn’t do anything wrong. “Why did the police officer grab her off her bike instead of talking to her?” I don’t know. He either thought she was never going to listen to him or that it was important that she be moved right that second.”

Most of my childrens’ encounters with the police so far have been at the crosswalk walking to school. Our regular officer was always so happy to see the children, he learned their names, and was the consummate professional man of the polis. Most police officers they will encounter in their lives will be the same, but not all of them. Police officers are humans like the rest of us; they can and do make mistakes. It’s such a complicated question for a five-year-old who thinks in terms of “good guys” and “bad guys.”

At bedtime, the last question my eight-year-old asked was whether or not the woman arrested was going to be OK. Through several layers of Facebook, we’d made contact, and I got word that she was home. I had also learned her name, and told it to my daughter who seemed calmer now that she knew it.

  1. At no point did the police order me to stop (in fact, several times they indicated that I was welcome to record, just to make sure I stayed out of the way, which I did). 
  2. I think perhaps people were concerned that I was going to indiscriminately make the footage public to embarrass the arrestee. That’s not something I’d do, but they have no way of knowing that. I’d be concerned about sensationalism too. 
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Sam Davies

Sam Davies is the father of two daughters (ages five and eight) who lives in Northside Richmond. He and his wife Kat are trying their best to not raise sociopaths.

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