Editorial: Northampton police equip cruisers to help distressed children

Last modified: Monday, December 09, 2013
We applaud the Northampton Police Department — and Officer Joshua Wallace in particular — for launching Cruiser Care, a program that puts a duffle bag filled with donated toys, crayons, books and games in every cruiser.

These care packages give an officer responding to incidents such as a domestic violence call, medical emergency or accident something readily available to comfort and, in many cases, distract an affected child.

Wallace, who initiated the program, said he got the idea after watching children at the Northampton station struggle to keep themselves entertained while their parents filled out restraining order applications. However, police arriving at crime scenes with toys for children has a longer history.

In the 1990s, Wallace said many police departments kept teddy bears in their cruisers. In New England, Project Smile collects donations of new and used toys, then distributes them to east coast police, paramedics and fire departments. The Easthampton Police Department has had a similar program for years. The station collects stuffed animals to stock their cruisers.

The impact a traumatic event can have on a child can be severe and long lasting.

Following a distressing situation, children ages 6 to 10 may fear going to school and stop seeing their friends. They may have difficulty paying attention, become aggressive or start acting younger than their age, seeking adults to feed or dress them, according to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Older children and young adults may deny their reactions and conceal them from people around them. They may become argumentative and resist structure or authority. Most worrisome, they may engage in risky behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse.

The public is invited to donate items to Cruiser Care at the police station on Center Street or at Wal-Mart on North King Street in Northampton. Already, businesses including Packaging Corp. of America, Wal-Mart, Build-a-Bear Workshop and Pacific Printing in Northampton have made donations to Cruiser Care.

It is exceptional that the Northampton Police Department is stepping outside of its regular duties and being proactive in aiding some of the community’s most vulnerable people. It may seem simple, but a friendly officer with a coloring book may go a long way toward reassuring a distressed child that there is still a lot of good in the world.

We hope this program catches on with more area police departments.