Advocates Pushed for Changes to Arrest Policy Long Before Myls Dobson Died

By Colby Hamilton on January 17, 2014 6:37am 

 Advocates were pushing for changes to how children are handled after a parent's arrest long before the tragic death of four-year-old Myls Dobson.
Advocates were pushing for changes to how children are handled after a parent's arrest long before the tragic death of four-year-old Myls Dobson.
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CIVIC CENTER — The death of 4-year-old Myls Dobson has inspired state legislation that would require police to notify child protective services whenever a primary caregiver or parent is arrested.

But the issue of children being forgotten by the system once a parent is arrested has concerned childcare advocates for years, they said.

A 2011 report by the New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents, for example, advised law enforcement agencies to, among other things, “allow arrested parents to place additional phone calls to arrange for child care,” “provide information to the person with whom the child has been left that can assist them in planning,” and “instruct officers how to respond when there is no appropriate caregiver available.”

“Law enforcement officials cannot be expected to meet the complex needs of minor children and should be encouraged to refer arrested parents to appropriate resources,” the report noted.

“Public and private agencies that serve children and families and have specialized knowledge about the impact of arrest on children, care and custody options, and legal issues should be available to provide services to children and families at this critical and stressful time.”

Currently, unless something comes up at the time of the arrest, NYPD officers are not required to check on the welfare of children of the person being arrested.

“Are we obligated to do something more? No,” a police source told DNAinfo New York. "Unless we have a feeling that he's keeping something from us or we know something more about his background, there's nothing we have to do.”

Myls' father, Okee Wade, left his son with a friend, Kryzie King, when he was arrested. The child was not checked on by authorities.

Tanya Krupat, program director of the New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents at the Osborne Association, hopes change will come soon, even though advocates have been pushing at the state and local level for police departments to adopt child-sensitive arrest protocols for years.

“We're hopeful with the new [mayoral] administration and the unfortunate attention to this issue [raised by Myls’ death] that very positive next steps will come about,” Krupat said.

On Dec. 4 — more than a month before Myls’ death last week — Krupat and another advocate met with the NYPD’s Community Affairs Bureau to discuss, among a number of policy changes, establishing concrete guidelines for how arresting officers should deal with dependent children.

“They were very open,” Krupat said.

The meeting was ahead of both the appointment of Bill Bratton as police commissioner and the inauguration of mayor Bill de Blasio.

“They were on a cusp of a huge transition to a new commissioner, but once that transition settled this was something they wanted,” Krupat said.

“Given the focus of the new admin and a new commissioner, we feel confident they will be following up on that promise.”

According to an administration source, de Blasio’s team is eyeing potential reforms to the way police and agencies handle the children of those arrested. On Friday, the Mayor is expected to announce the results of a week-long investigation into Myls' death.

There are templates to help lawmakers, advocates noted.

The New York State Association of Chiefs of Police arrest protocol advises arresting officers to ensure the safety of children by helping the arrested person in “locating or contacting caregiver designated by the parent.

It instructs, "If unable to reasonably locate suitable caregiver, contact Child Protective Services."

The protocol goes further, noting that the “goal of responding officers is to minimize unnecessary trauma to the children of arrestees and to determine the best alternative care for the children.”

“Generally, the arrested parent has the right to choose appropriate placement for their children,” the protocol suggestion states.

“Be sure to document the identity, location and contact info of the caregiver with whom children are placed. If unable to identify or locate an appropriate caregiver, contact your Supervisor and/or Child Protective Services on-call caseworker.”

Advocates say that these voluntarily rules could easily become the basis for city law enforcement guidelines.

State lawmakers had also been at work on this issue before the Myls' death.

State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery and Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, both of Brooklyn, have for years sponsored legislation to implement child-sensitive policing practices which are nearly identical to the State Association of Chiefs of Police’s protocols.

Krupat said discussions with lawmakers would hopefully lead to amendments to the legislation, particularly regarding a clear process for ensuring the children of parents are safe in whatever situation they find themselves after the arrest of a parent.

For now, advocates hope the increased attention to the issue will mean the de Blasio administration will make significant changes.

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