2017-04-30 / Insight

Along with guns and handcuffs deputies carry stuffed animals

BY PHIL FOLEY
810-452-2616 • pfoley@mihomepaper.com


Deputy Dustin Boynton, like many Lapeer County Sheriff’s Dept. deputies, keeps a bag of stuffed animals in his trunk to help calm traumatized children. 
Photo by Phil Foley Deputy Dustin Boynton, like many Lapeer County Sheriff’s Dept. deputies, keeps a bag of stuffed animals in his trunk to help calm traumatized children. Photo by Phil Foley LAPEER — The world’s a big and scary place when you’re small and it becomes an even scarier place when you’re a child faced with a house fire, car accident or other traumatic events including domestic violence or abuse in the home.

Lapeer County Sheriff’s Dept. Deputy Dustin Boynton, like most of his colleagues, keeps about a dozen stuffed animals in a bag in the trunk of his patrol car along with the rest of his emergency equipment.

Boynton probably hands out four or five stuffed animals a year to children involved in traumatic situations. His most recent incident was a Burlington Township house fire that occurred in January. “There were some kids who were freaking,” he recalled.

“It gives the child a calming effect,” said Undersheriff Jeremy Howe, “especially when they’re involved in a traumatic incident like that. And it doesn’t make the incident so negative. We want our interactions with children to be positive.”

“The kids who need them the most are the ones that get it,” Boynton said. “They’re the ones who need a little light at the end of their tunnel.”

Howe is not certain how long the department has been handing out stuffed animals, but though it’s been at least 15 years and probably longer.

No one’s sure when the practice started nationwide, but at least as far back as 1987 a charity in San Francisco was donating to local police departments.

Some, like Los Angeles, get teddy bears with police shirts on them. Lapeer is a little less formal.

Around November or December people begin to drop off stuffed animals at the sheriff’s department office on John Conley Drive in Lapeer. “We don’t have to advertise or anything like that, they just come,” Howe said. “It says something about the kind of community we are.”

Imlay City Chief of Police Scott Pike said he found several bags of stuffed animals at his department when he took over 13 months ago. He said having them available for officers is “just a common-sense way to deal with small children in a traumatic situation.”

Unlike the sheriff’s department, Imlay City Police officers don’t keep them in their cars. “We don’t want them sitting in the back of a car getting all dirty and nasty,” he said, and with only three square miles to cover, it’s not a problem for someone to run back to the station if one is needed.

“They’re there, if an officer thinks he needs one,” Pike said. He added, “They make it a lot easier to talk to kids.”

Howe noted that while the sheriff’s department doesn’t require deputies to carry stuffed animals in their patrol cars, about 80 percent do. “A lot of guys give out stickers,” he said. “That’s a huge thing too. Stickers seem to be even better than stuffed animals, at times. A little junior deputy sticker goes a long way with those kids, especially when they’re involved in a traumatic incident like that.”

Howe added, “I think it’s a little therapeutic for the officer. They can leave the scene knowing they gave a child some comfort.”

He said the last time he was involved in a situation like that was a year ago Christmas, when he was arresting a Mayfield Township man for domestic violence. “The gravity of the whole experience was pretty traumatic,” he recalled. “Kids were crying, screaming, seeing dad taken off in handcuffs.

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