Wednesday, April 8, 2020
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Tenn. elementary students handcuffed

On April 15, 10 elementary school students in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, were arrested over a bullying and assault incident that occurred off school grounds, the Tennesseean reports. Police officers came into their school and handcuffed some of them in the course of making the arrests.

Ribbon cutting at Hobgood Elementary in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, 2013 (school website)

The police chief is investigating whether any policies or procedures in the police department were violated or need to be upgraded, but he said he’s saddened and sorry that some children, all between the ages of 6 and 12, were handcuffed in the course of being arrested. Charges were filed and are pending, and those charges aren’t expected to be dropped.

But it was the handling of the arrest, not the validity of the charges, that brought the community to an uproar and garnered national attention and some outrage. Police are allowed to handcuff children but are instructed to “take into consideration” the use of handcuffs, since their use has a traumatic effect on young children.

“There’s a great concern for the children that were involved—what kind of scarring effects this might have on the children, what later implications it may have on the children putting them through the criminal justice system,” the paper quoted the parent of one second grader at Hobgood Elementary as saying.

“It stigmatizes the school and the administration, and it also stigmatizes the community. The police say that we do not know the whole story, and I have tried to imagine what the story would be that would justify them coming into the school and handcuffing them and arresting them—it’s just not possible.”

Murfreesboro Police Chief Karl Durr told the paper he would like to improve the way in-school arrests are handled. He said he would prefer not to traumatize children by taking arrestees out of school; he would instead like to focus on community policing.

“I want to believe what happened here was an anomaly, because of the good work that I see,” he was quoted as saying about the other interactions his department has with the community every day. “Errors were made, and now we are going to correct them moving forward and fix them so they are not repeated.”

The bullying and assault charges are now before a juvenile county court, and it’s a serious matter, Mr Durr said, in part because one of the children who was arrested is involved in another criminal case. The two children who are believed to have committed assault were not charged because they are too young, the article stated.

“Remember there was a victim here too,” Mr Durr reminded people in his community, acknowledging that the arrest may not have been handled in the best possible way but was a good use of police engagement. “So if my officer didn’t do their job that day, and we ignored the victim, what would this conversation be today? That we failed to do our job.”

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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