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Parents call cops when kids act up

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By Leslie Moore

From arresting criminals, directing traffic at the scene of a crash to writing speeding tickets, the Campbellsville Police Department has many responsibilities for maintaining order in the community.

In recent years, however, officers have struggled to steer clear of another role that doesn't fit the job description - disciplining children.

Since September 2012, Campbellsville Police have responded to 184 reports of out-of-control juveniles. Chief Tim Hazlette said the department has received calls for children as young as 3 and as old as 17 from anxious parents who can't get their children to behave.

"There's not a real clear answer we can give them," Hazlette said. "The one thing we can say is we're not their parent and we're not designed to be their parent, and that they need to take responsibility for the discipline and care of their child."

Somewhere along the way, Hazlette said, a misinterpretation of what abuse is has permeated society, leading some parents to fear they will be arrested if they use physical discipline.

In an emailed response, Anya Weber, a public information officer for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, wrote that some situations that cause a child discomfort are not acts of intentional abuse. These include acts of corporal punishment appropriate to the child's age, without injuries, marks, bruises or substantial risk of harm.

"Child physical abuse would include any injuries inflicted on a child that are not accidental," Weber wrote.

Hazlette said the department frequently receives calls from well-intentioned observers who see a parent strike their child in the grocery store. Although the department always responds, Hazlette said he can't remember a time when an investigation into this type of call resulted in the discovery of abuse.

"Time out doesn't always work," Hazlette said. "It may work for some, but it don't work for everybody."

Hazlette said there have been many strides made in the area of child protection in the last several years that are necessary because of people who don't have a child's best interest at heart.

"But that doesn't mean that we should abandon what we know to have been tried and true techniques and measures of instruction and control ... for fear that we're going to be put in jail for it," Hazlette said.

According to Hazlette, parents and legal guardians of minors in Kentucky have the legal right to discipline them, and that includes physical punishment.

To avoid taking physical punishment too far, Weber suggests that when there is a problem, parents should calm down, count to 10 and think before punishing their child.

Weber states that parents should be consistent with their child and the discipline they use.

"Make sure your child understands the discipline being used and that it fits the behavior."

Those individuals who abuse children when they're not angry are the ones Hazlette said his department likes to find.

"Those are the people that we like to put in jail because they're abusing them just for recreational purposes," Hazlette said. "They're, you know, burning them with cigarettes or neglecting them in some way. Those are the ones I'm all about catching them and putting them in jail ... not somebody who's trying to bring their child up in the proper way and using some corporal discipline."

Another reason parents call the police for help making their children mind, Hazlette says, is because they want to be their child's friend. He said he considers this neglectful parenting because they aren't fulfilling their obligation as a parent to train and guide a child into adulthood.

Hazlette said a parent's failure to instill discipline in childhood breeds contempt for authority, leading to a lifetime of problems with following the law.

But by remembering their responsibility as a parent, Hazlette said the solution is simple.

"I think it's time that we educate our people and let them know that they don't have to live in torment and let their child rule their home and be a domestic terrorist in their own home," Hazlette said. "They can do something about it."

State law requires that any person who suspects child abuse report it. Suspected abuse can be reported to the Child Protection Hot Line at (877) KYSAFE1.