Montgomery County authorities impound kids for walking on street, cont’d

I’ve now expanded Monday’s post into a longer Cato post. Among the new material, it links Petula Dvorak’s excellent WaPo column (“Our rapid march toward police-state parenting has got to end”) in which, to show how far we have moved, she quotes a checklist from a 1979 book on knowing whether your six-year-old is ready for first grade: “Can he travel alone in the neighborhood (four to eight blocks) to store, school, playground, or to a friend’s home?”

Megan McArdle notes “the kind of range of movement that those of us over 30 recall as a normal part of childhood” and names some possibilities of what social forces might have brought about such an extreme shift in attitudes, from cable news (magnifying the very-rare-in-fact peril of stranger abductions) to the lack of daytime “eyes on the street” to the ubiquity of mobile phones and report-possible-abuse lines (“It would be surprising if we lowered the price of being an officious busybody and didn’t get a lot more of it.”)

The Meitiv family has now issued a statement about the episode; they have a pro bono lawyer from Wiley Rein. The police account is here (“the victim children”). More from Lenore Skenazy:

Aren’t prisoners allowed one phone call, or is that just on TV? Because the Meitiv kids were not allowed to contact their parents in the six hours they were held by the authorities.

This is probably as good a place as any to share my personal experience: by around age 9 or 10 in the early 1960s I had the run of downtown Detroit and wandered around by myself to all sorts of attractions there, returning to my mother’s place of work at the end of the business day. That was considered a little precocious and my family was proud of me on that account. Once with some extra money in my pocket I even went into a white-tablecloth Italian restaurant by myself and ordered, ate, and paid for a meal with tip, a story told for years afterward.

P.S.: “This is kind of insane — in Illinois it’s illegal to leave a 13-year-old home alone” [Christopher Ingraham, but see comments below (not illegal in Illinois as such, only potentially so depending on a range of factors)]


  • A children’s “one phone call” rule is an idea that every voter ( even many overprotective ones) could understand as the centerpiece of a Federal civil Rights law that would subject Montgomery County kidnapers to ruinous civil and criminal penalties. Even more than cars and houses, children should be protected from sloppy “civil forfeiture” jurisprudence.

  • Again we see you don’t belong to yourself, you belong to the state. You’re tax farmed and groomed for subservience. A few remember, or never forgot, what being free was like. I just don’t know who these people are who call themselves our masters.

  • If it’s proven that CPS imposed that temporary “not to be without supervision” (which, by the way, means that the parents cannot sleep–how do you supervise when you’re asleep?) resulted from any retaliatory motive, then the bureaucrat who imposed it needs to be imprisoned for interference with custody. And it should be real jail time.

    In any era of petty abuse by government officials, jail time (and serious jail time at that) needs to be meted out. I don’t know why the VA officials who illegally accessed medical records aren’t spending at least a decade in a federal prison.

  • The Meitivs need to get their kids cell phones. If the kids had cell phones, they could have called mom & dad from the squad car without having to ask permission first.

  • This arises from the idea that we can and must prevent any possible bad outcome. This leads to all sorts of insanity from expelling kids for pointing a finger and saying bang to closing down street food vendors. It is fear of everything that stiffles. The country would never have been explored and settled with this mindset.
    At 5 I walked 2 blocks to kindergarten. I went out to play and stayed close to home only because of my own concerns. By 10 I was traveling miles from home and making money finding stray golf balls and selling them back. At 12 I took the bus to the YMCA to play pool by myself and take classes. Successful people take initiative.

  • @MattS

    You have the right idea, but kids easily lose cell phones. The absence of a cell phone should not excuse those who detain a kid from immediately contacting the parents.

    (1) Kids are good at memorizing a parent’s phone number, however. Any official detaining a child should be required to honor a child’s request to call that number, under the extreme penalties for kidnaping.

    (2) Kids could wear light neck bands (not easily removed) containing the phone number and other key identifying information, in case the kid is too panicked to repeat the phone number

    (3) Project for inventors: a light “panic button” that a kid can wear around his neck and press as needed. It would automatically initiate a call to his parents.

    (3b) As body–cam technology improves, it can be downsized to be convenient for kids, and viewable remotely by parents over phone connections.

  • Looking at this incident and the comments here and on other sites, there is very little sympathy or support for the MCPD and CPS. So given that the family and their lawyers have public support on their side, why issue a statement that is either contradictory or at least exaggerates what happened?

    By all accounts, the children were stopped “around” 5 PM.

    In the statement from the lawyers ( ):

    CPS did not release the children to Danielle and Alexander until 10:30 P.M., and the children did not return home until about 11 P.M. on a school night.

    The statement then makes the charge:

    Due to the actions of Maryland CPS and Montgomery County Police, the children were:
    — kept from their parents for over six hours without access to food, and

    The statement gives times that show that the kids were at most detained for 5 and a half hours, but then says they were kept from their parents without access to food for over 6 hours.

    If the parents picked up the kids at !0:30 PM and had them home “around 11 PM,” why does the statement say the children were:

    not returned to the parents until almost midnight on the night before school.

    The “fudging” of the story to make a point or make the actions of the police / CPS worse is rather pointless in my opinion. The Meitiv’s and their lawyers are winning the public relations battle, so why release a statement that is inaccurate and contradictory?

    Certainly the actions of the police and their statement to justify those actions can be seen as self serving. Yet when the Meitiv’s and their lawyers release a statement that doesn’t match their own stated facts, in some ways their account must be seen as self serving as well.

    The police and CPS were wrong. But if the victims are going to lie or exaggerate, they lose some of the benefit of the doubt as well.

  • @MattS:
    “The Meitivs need to get their kids cell phones. If the kids had cell phones, they could have called mom & dad from the squad car without having to ask permission first.”

    Or, you could just put tracking chips in them like you can a dog. I wonder if CPS would consider that as falling under permissible or required supervision (so you can always locate your child), or child abuse (because your child no longer has to be in line of sight)?

    As Hugo points out, kids can lose a cell phone (but, he overlooks that that they can take off and lose a panic button — an implanted chip prevents such loss). However, if, according to CPS’s thinking, children are mindless chattel, may as well go all the way — although I think we should stop somewhere short of branding).

    [Disclosure of the type Walter made — I grew up in a semi-rural area, on a large lake where I went swimming, fishing and boating, next to farms (that had cattle, including breeding bulls, on them), and many nearby woods. Friends and I explored all of these, taking with us, at times, lighters and flammable liquids to build fires, fireworks, BB Guns, and small caliber firearms, and sometimes we even took tents and sleeping bags and spent the night. There was a neighborhood pool and park (where unsupervised children played pick-up sports, including tackle football, basketball and baseball — all 3 of which were contact sports, and we acted as our own refs, and managed to work out when fouls were committed, all without adult supervision). Sometimes someone got hurt, so we’d do appropriate first aid, or, more often, tell the kid to stop being a wuss and to either get back in the game or go home. As my parents were divorced and my mother (who had custody of my brother and me) worked, we did not have constant parental supervision. If I misbehaved, there were other parents in the neighborhood who would call my mother directly — as I discovered more than once. Dispite this apparent neglect, my brother & I graduated from high school, college and graduate programs — and, paid our own ways doing so — and never felt neglected or deprived since we had friends and found many ways to spend our time and learned independence and responsibility. If my comments about the Montgomery County, MD, CPS appear to have an edge of sarcasm, that is intended]

  • This is probably as good a place as any to share my personal experience: by around age 9 or 10 in the early 1960s I had the run of downtown Detroit and wandered around by myself to all sorts of attractions there, returning to my mother’s place of work at the end of the business day.

    I was in very much the same boat in ’69-’71, downtown Milwaukee. My dad (was a Jarhead at the main recruiting office) would take me downtown to his office, and from there i would wander off, usually to the main library, where I would easily entertain myself all day. I knew when to get back, and how to get back to his officer.

    I get that times have changed since you or I did the Great Escape, but why is everyone such a special snowflake now? Kids are not stupid. Getting to the park and back by themselves without a helicopter parent or the close gaze of government is not a difficult task. It’s part of what allows us as adults to travel easily.

  • One of the problems is the misinterpretation (by CPS, reporters, law enforcement and others) of laws that permit a parent to use discreton. For example, the referenced Illinois statute makes it a crime to leave a child under 14 unsupervised for an “unreasonable period of time” without regard for the minor’s mental or physical health or safety or welfare. The statute then provides a list of things to be considered that generally mirror factors that most parents consider in determining how long to leave a child on his own. The language of the statute obviously anticipates that a child under 14 may be left unsupervised for some period, and the duration of that period depends on the specifics of the situation. The problem I see with the statute as written is that it encourages CPS or law enforcement to substitute their judgment for that of the deciding parent rather than consider whether the parent’s decision really created a substantial risk of harm.

  • The comment about IL law is a little short. Indeed the statute mentions the age of 14 and then a lot of factors to be considered.
    now whether illiterate enforcement would actually do a sound determination based on those factors is doubtful, but at least the legislator seemed to have a sound-ish mind .

  • @Richard–
    We have heard much about the “hollowing out of the middle class,” with blame on computerization of formerly skilled white collar jobs, and cheap,reliable links to low-wage markets like China and India.
    But another factor may well be thirty years of hysteria and the consequent infantilization of new generations. The rich can afford to hire nannies and place their kids in expensive schools out of the reach of lowest-common-denominator CPS enforcement,so the rich continue to thrive. The rest of our kids, however, enter the global market lacking important psychological capital.

  • @wfjag

    “Or, you could just put tracking chips in them like you can a dog.”

    The chips that they put in dogs are not for tracking.

    All they do is spit out a unique ID number to a reader at very close range (inches). If the dog ends up at a shelter or vet, they can use the ID number to get the owners contact information and call the owner.

    Those kinds of ID tags would do nothing in the case where a child is intentionally being held away from the parents.

  • At 14, my parents put me on an airplane by myself to Washington National (before Reagan), and I took the Metro into DC and saw various Smithsonian museums before taking the train to the Pentagon that afternoon late to meet my uncle for the weekend. Thank you Mom and Dad!

  • @MattS
    I said I was being somewhat sarcastic. However, I have seen a design for the type of locator system (proposed for people suffering from advanced dementia). The biggest obstacle is battery life. Either an external battery is required, or a rechargable battery like a cell phone. Then, cell towers are used to triangulate. If parents are required to be able to locate children at all times, there may be a market which would justify the remaining R&D. Agh! The market opportunities from treating children as chattel.