The D.C. Police Department is showing us a shred of decency and common sense often found lacking in law enforcement. They’re not doing anything extra praiseworthy like freeing and expunging nonviolent convicts or storming the White House lawn to arrest Trump because they don’t need no stinking charges or legal precedent. Nope, they’re doing a much simpler thing that should never have needed doing in the first place: They’re discontinuing the practice of handcuffing children.
According to the Washington Post, Chief Peter Newsham announced that D.C. police officers will no longer handcuff children under age 12, except in situations deemed dangerous to the child or the public. This new guideline is aimed at improving the way police engage with juvenile suspects and comes on the heels of multiple incidents of viral video catching cops handcuffing and detaining 9- and 10-year old black children since last April.
Last year, D.C. police received a ton of backlash after a video of a 9-year-old child being handcuffed while the surrounding crowd looks on horrified and pleads with them to “get off” as the child cries and pees his pants. Police later determined that the boy had committed no crimes. This came just weeks after police handcuffed a 10-year-old boy in a case in which Attorney General Karl A. Racine later said, after launching a probe into the encounter, that the child was “totally innocent.” After these incidents, police officials began to revamp departmental policies with the attorney general’s office, according to the Post.
“We just want to handle our juveniles in the most professional way,” Chief Newsham said in an interview. “You have to have an understanding that these kids aren’t fully developed emotionally and mentally.”
The police chief announced the changes to D.C. Council members Tuesday morning at a legislative breakfast.
“We want the public to know that when we do come in contact with kids who have been involved in criminal behavior, they are going to be treated very, very carefully,” Newsham said adding that incidents last spring “painted the police department in a very negative light.”
And, indeed, they did. But this is a good look for D.C. (even though, again, it shouldn’t have been necessary because who slips handcuffs on a 9-year old they’re not sure even did anything and thinks, “Sure, this is fine”?) and I hope other police departments around the nation that haven’t already adopted this policy do so with the quickness.
Councilmember Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who chairs a council overseeing D.C. police shared similar sentiments saying, “I am optimistic that this is really going to set the stage for what we want across the whole country.”
As for D.C. police, they’ve discussed changes with multidisciplinary juvenile groups, the Juvenile Justice Clinic at Georgetown University and union leaders to help design new policies, according to Newsham.
From the Post:
Effective immediately, officers will be prohibited from handcuffing juveniles 12 and younger. Officers will have discretion to handcuff teenagers between age 13 and 17, based on the severity of the crime and “the behavior of the child that’s involved,” Newsham said. Whether they are a danger to themselves or others will be one of the considerations.
That 13 is the cutoff year for this new policy makes me cringe a little, but, hey, baby steps, I guess.