This incident happened almost a half century ago. 50 years. I remember it like it was yesterday.
In police work they are call “status offenders”. These are juvenile “crimes”, things that would not be a crime for an adult.
Such offenses are mostly “persons in need of supervision” or an “incorrigible juvenile”. An incorrigible juvenile is one that can no longer be controlled by the parents or guardians. The juvenile is taken into custody, booked, and taken to the detention facility until the Family Court can hold a hearing and make a determination. Usually the kid is sent to a foster home; sometimes the kid is sent back home, if the parent wants the child back.
So the kid gets the short end of the stick, most of the time the kid is getting what he deserves, but not always.
I was working with my first FTO (field training officer) when we got the call for an “incorrigible juvenile, a female”. So dispatch sent us as we were the nearest 2 man unit and you always want 2 officers when having anything to do with females.
It wasn’t a high rent area, I’d seen much worse. Mostly studio and 1 bedroom apartments, semi-furnished, no pool, single parking, and you pay the electricity and telephone.
The grounds were the usual collection of weeds, beer cans, and cars that hadn’t been driven in months. But inside the apartment it was a different story. It was as clean and neat as it could be. No dirty dishes, no roaches on the walls, and no dirty laundry everywhere, just clean.
So was the “incorrigible” juvenile. She was 11 and very quiet. Like the apartment, she was clean. Quiet and clean. That was more than you could say for her mother.
It was 4:30pm and “mom” couldn’t stand without weaving. Mom just couldn’t tell us enough about how she couldn’t control the “little bitch” anymore. How she wouldn’t listen or obey anymore.
She went on and on for a good 15 minutes without anyone else saying anything. When she did stop to take a breath, and a drink, my FTO asked what she wanted us to do with the child.
“Take her away. Lock her up in jail. I don’t care. Just get her out of my sight.”
Small tears began to make their way from the corner of the little girl’s eyes down her cheeks. A small whimper escaped, and tore at me.
But in this city, at that time, the adult is always right.
So we listened to mom go on and on. We took all the right information and made the right notes while the little “incorrigible” packed a small bag. I remember that bag, it was pink, plastic, and had pictures of “Cinderella” on the sides. As she and I walked out to the car, she hugged it to her chest with both arms. The tears were falling freely now.
As we walked, I felt lousy. I was suddenly the guy in the black hat, the evil prince.
As I opened the car door and the little girl slid in, a neighbor came out. A large woman in a house dress you could use to scare a vacuum cleaner salesman. When she spoke, it was with a heavy German accent.
“You’re takin’ the little girl? Goot, is about time. That woman in there is no damn goot. Drunk always and bringing home strange men. The other night she did that and the little girl sat on the porch almost all night.” She paused and took a deep breath. “And the old woman upstairs, you know the crippled one?” I didn’t but she went on anyway. “That little girl always is helping her. Cleaning and going to the store for her”.
She walked to the patrol car window.
“You will be alright sweetheart. These policemen are friends for you”. The little girl gave a weak but brave smile as the woman reached through the window and gave her a hug.
As I got into the car next to her, I looked out and saw mom standing in the doorway, drink in hand. She hadn’t hugged her daughter.
My FTO slid in behind the wheel, started the car and began to pull away. I glanced at the small figure next to me, huddled against the far door. On the seat between us was the small plastic bag with pictures of Cinderella on the sides. The child looked at me and smiled. It wasn’t forced or brave, it was the smile for someone you hoped will be your friend.
I didn’t feel like the evil prince. With that smile, like the kiss of a princess changes the enchanted toad, she had turned me into Prince Charming.