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Mother reported for child in hot car

Police should apologize to mother reported for child neglect

A distracted mother locks her baby in her car. She calls the police for help, and receives it. But she ends up being reported for potential child neglect. Was the police officer acting out of an excess of caution? Or racism?

The mother alleged, in a complaint to Boston Police Internal Affairs, that she was a victim of racial profiling. The department, however, stood by the officer. Absent any evidence of a racial motive, it’s likely that both parties acted in good faith, trying to protect the child. The mother was right to call 911, and police were justified in taking seriously the possibility that she could have endangered the child. Nonetheless, it soon became clear that the mother wasn’t at fault. And some sort of acknowledgment by the police would go a long way toward soothing any bad feelings.

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Nikysha Harding, a Boston Public Health Commission official, says she accidentally locked her 11-month-old son inside her car when she picked him up from day care in Roxbury. Police and firefighters, responding to her call, quickly freed the child by shattering a window. After allegedly hearing conflicting stories from the mother and the day-care provider, police decided to file what is known as a 51A report, which opens a child abuse or neglect case with the Department of Children and Families. The department eventually determined that Harding’s actions were not neglectful and thus “screened out” the report.

Harding, who is black, contends the filing was motivated by racial bias. Police say they were led to believe by the day-care provider that the mother had left the child unattended inside the car. The day-care provider denies speaking to them. That mystery aside, the police were right to be vigilant. Every year, about 40 children nationwide die after being left unattended inside hot cars. While they shouldn’t be faulted for being overly cautious, the police should be prepared to acknowledge, if the facts bear them out, that they made a mistake.

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