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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Thursday, September 11, 2008

South Whitehall Police Draw Guns on Children Playing War

Sunday was a great day for war games. That's what five boys, aged between 9 and 12, were doing at Trexler Park on Sunday. What started as an afternoon of fun, however, soon turned into a day of terror when South Whitehall cops decided they wanted to play, too. Let me tell the story.

Armed with yellow and orange Nerf guns, two eleven year old boys named Christian and Dylan were pitted against an army of three boys brandishing their own, plainly visible, red and yellow Star Wars toy guns.

These boys were just doing what boys do - playing.

Unbeknown to them, there was a real war game going on in nearby Allentown, a shootout at 13th & Liberty between people in two different vehicles. For whatever reason, jittery cops thought these children might be the gangbangers.

As these five boys played their pretend game, two South Whitehall police cruisers and a SUV barrelled into Trexler Park to protect us from those Nerf darts. They pulled 9mm pistols and shotguns and forced these five boys to drop to the ground. Each was patted down and searched for bullets or whatever. In tears, they were required to identify themselves and provide home numbers.

After realizing what a stupid mistake they had just made, one of the cops said, "Have a good day and don't get in trouble." They left as suddenly as they came.

Dylan, a sixth grade student, broke down in tears when he got home. The same thing happened to Christian. In fact, they've both been having nightmares since this incident.

Dylan's dad, Hugo, is himself a former NYC cop, and he's upset. "It's awful for an eleven year-old to be drawn down on. No one even came by to say they were sorry or at least explain things. No one apologized for anything."

Christian's dad, Jeffrey, is also upset. When he'd call Allentown police, they'd refer him to South Whitehall. When he'd call South Whitehall, they'd refer him to Allentown. Through repeated calls, he's learned the trigger-happy cops are from South Whitehall, but little else.

"I have not achieved any resolution. I think my son is owed an apology."

He's right. This is not some situation in which kids were taunting police officers with toy guns and there is no ban on toy guns in South Whitehall Township. They were playing in a park, which is presumably why we have parks.

None of these cops had any reason to feel threatened, and their rash behavior could have resulted in a tragedy. They certainly need to apologize to Dylan, Christian and their parents. Even more, they need some training.


A.J.C. said...

They don't need to apologize, they need to be fired!

That's horrible!

Joe Hilliard said...

First, let's all be glad that there was not a far worse outcome for any of these children.

Second, I can understand the caution of the police and they are trained to handle such situations in very specific ways. It could also be a tragedy if an officer assumed that kids were playing with toy guns when they had real ones.

None of us know the conditions (light out, dusk, night?, were the kids in 'camo' clothes to play, could the guns be clearly seen?, were they in heavy foliage?, did they appear to be hiding while playing?) the questions are endless. So I don't think we can just say that the cops 'should've known'.

However, I will agree that there should be some sort of effort to help these kids work through the trauma. Especially by the police officers involved. In fact, they could help explain why they did what they did and that the kids did nothing wrong. It would also benefit the police because these children might forever harbor a deep distrust and fear of police in general, which is never good for society.

The problem is, with our litigious society, these officers will probably be ordered not to talk to these children or apologize - which might be construed as some admission of wrongdoing.

My, what tangled webs we weave as a society....

I hope the families reach out to other resources to help these kids work through this.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Joe for that very Republican advice.

Anonymous said...

The one thing these boys learned...the police are to be feared.

They never will forget this episode.

Where is the S. Whitehall Police Chief. Why hasn't he come forth to meet with the boys?

Anonymous said...

I agree w/ a.j. (oh damn, that's twice in a week!)

Joe, I understand your position but disagree w/ it. There is no excuse for how this was handled from start to finish. Lawhers or no, you do the right thing.

I haven't seen anything from Chief Toth, the conduct of his officers is his responsibility. Has anyone seen him quoted anywhere?

The Banker

Anonymous said...

"Thanks Joe for that very Republican advice."

Wow. And I was so certain Democrats had the corner on stupid advice. Try to learn something everyday.

Anonymous said...

Why were the South Whitehall cops in Trexler Park?

Trexler Park is in the city of Allentown and under the responsibility of the Allentown police. Look at a map.

Anonymous said...

Boys' parents should call Trexler Trust to find out why s.w. police
there. Clear accountability needs
to be demanded.

Anonymous said...

City Council should demand an investigation as to why South Whitehall police are in Trexler Park.

Maybe it's because Allentown doesn't have enough police to cover the city. West End residents might find that interesting.

Anonymous said...

This is terrible and there should be an apology. What is the racial background of the children?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Why were the South Whitehall cops in Trexler Park?

Trexler park is clearly in Allentown and under its jurisdiction. But it was S Whitehall cops who did this.

Bernie O'Hare said...

What is the racial background of the children?

I don't know if there was a racial background given on the "shots fired" report over the radio. But I also wondered if cops had a racial motive and aked the two fathers with whom i spoke. Of the five boys involved, three were white and two were Hispanic.

Anonymous said...

One AJC, one Joe Hilliard, 8 anons, and 2 Bernie's. Looks like the voices in Bernie's head are having quite a conversation today1

Anonymous said...

I sympathize with the police, simply because of this:

I imagine, they weren't sitting around the donut shop thinking of ways to scare children( just too easy). However, they might have gotten a scary 911 call about short-people running around in the woods with some futuristic guns. Oh, I'm sure the 911 caller would say, they heard children screaming too.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I'm sure police were responding to some complaint. But presumably, these cops were once boys themselves who played the very same games. Their reaction was inappropriate and could have resulted in a tragedy.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 9:53 is, unfortunately, a jealous blogger (Partial IP 71.175.182.#, ISP Verizon, vicinity - Quakertown). Why someone would be jealous of a small, locally-oriented blog is beyond me, but there it is.

Rather than focus on the story itself and what happened to these kids, the troll is attempting, unsuccessfully, to destroy a good comment thread.

Anonymous said...

Hey this may be hard for some to comprehend, but I have witnessed too many things like this first hand. I have seen the friendly police to some, turn into beings that do not reflect their true individual identities and beliefs and morph into mean sarcastic, enforcers . In this case there are 2 questions that need to be resolved? Was this a message for some to stay away from that park...I can't imagine police officers doing this to 9-12 year olds without knowledge of the message this sends to the certain communities .,..That message being stay out of this park...

PS and I'm not Bernie

J. SPIKE ROGAN said...

South Whitehall PD is a bunch of rent-a-cops outfit.

They should be patroling the Saucon Valley Mall not public streets.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:53am, maybe you're Bernie? So Bernie starts a blog, and creates some alter egos, and then creates more alter egos to challenge the original Bernie about his original alter egos, then the 2nd alter ego wave accuses Bernie of lying about the original alter egos and then Bernie creates another alter ego (I think the 3rd wave) to challenge the 2nd alter ego that was challenging the other original alter egos?

I see a Twilight Zone episode here.

The Banker (a/k/a 2nd waive alter ego)

Valima said...

This is bull$h1t!!!

Regardless of what the conditions where, daytime, dusk, dark etc...the police officers should have apologized and even escorted the boys home. Imagine how traumatized they are having had guns, REAL GUNS, drawn on them by the police officers.

Again..This is Bull$h1t!

If this happened to a child of one of the officers, I'm sure behind that infamous 'blue curtain'.. the offending officers would have apologized.

Three times a charm!

This is Bull$h1t!!!!

Joe Hilliard said...

My comments are not "Republican" but, in my opinion, are common sense.

Police have a dangerous job. They responded to a shooting call. Though why S.W. police were in Trexler Park is a great point. Anyone with a potential gun is a danger until the situation is secured.

Yes, Bernie's picture shows a bright yellow gun that should have been obvious, but what were the conditions during the incident?

Was a kid possibly yelling "I'm gonna shoot you!" to one of his friends as he was playing and as the police approached? What is a police officer supposed to do then?

My point is, I tire of the constant second guessing. However, should facts prove something else, I will not be an apologist either. I just say, give people who put their very lives at risk everyday some benefit of the doubt.

According to a web search: "Fifty-seven police officers were killed feloniously in 2007, most of whom were shot, up from 48 the previous year."

Many of these officers had children of their own. I bet some were killed by criminals who looked young. This also doesn't count shootings that did not result in an officers death. How many hundreds more were injured?

Joe Hilliard said...


It does matter what the circumstances were that created this situation. Why do some think the cops were just sitting around bored and eating donuts and they popped up and said, "Let's go screw up some young kids!" (If they did do something like this, they should be fired.)

However, we can agree that the aftermath should have been handled much better as I stated in my original post. Unless they were responding to the same or another emergency call I can find little reason why this was not handled with concern for the kids.

But I will not jump to conclusions.

mindboggled said...

What kind of parent allows their children between the ages of 9 and 12 go to the park and play with out adult supervision?!!! The parents of these children should be arrested charged with child endangerment. They are not properly supervising their kids, especially the kids under 12.

primetime said...

joe hilliard

Sure, the police are supposed to be trained in "firearms restraint and tactics", however, no restraint was used during this incident and the tactics used were anything but police tactics. Being an ex member of the law enforcement community, I know that this situation was handled wrecklessly (in a keystone cops kinda way). It was a beautiful clear day and the officers, whether they responded to a legitimate call or not, rained on these kid's parade. Kids have a right to exercise their active and fertile imaginations, including playing war games. Here's the rub, the children were put face down on the ground even after it was determined that these were nurf guns. Get with it people, the police screwed up, plain and simple.

Yes Joe, I agree, the police to have a very dangerous job, but as I previously stated, they are supposed to know how to handle these situations and, in this instance, they simply were clueless.

The South Whitehall police were first to arrive on the scene, perhaps because the Allentown P.D. didn't know where Trexler Park is...(Hint: Allentown P.D. - they have these convenient little GPS gadgets that can help you become more acquainted with the territory your responsible for patroling).

I'm well aware of the stereotypes associated with certain ethnicities, however, when it comes to children innocently playing with what are clearly toy guns, and being drawn down on by police with real ones, ethnicity should not matter. Play IS the child's work and the picture posted by Bernie is a very accurate depiction of the nurf guns used on that day. Heck, a lay person would have been able to identify these nurf guns as toys, so why couldn't the police do so. I see "sensitivity training" in these officr's future.

to mindboggled

The kind of parents that would allow their 9 and 12 year old boys to play on a PLAYGROUND specifically designated for children to PLAY, and also realize that they (the children) are in the developmental stage where they need to express a little autonomy, are the types of parents that rear responsible, respectful, patriotic, and independent young men. Gee, you probably got lost at the developmental thing, but I digress.

To Mr. O'hare

I cannot thank you enough for putting this blog out there. On behalf of my family, especially Christian, I humbly thank you.

Just for the record folks; to this very day, no one from either Allentown or South Whitehall P.D. has called to offer an apology. That's O.K. though, I'll help my son through this and when all is said and done, he'll probably still want to be a Police Officer, just like dad, when he grows up.

In closing, perhaps we should all think like mindboggled; let's all just lock up our kids somewhere safe until they are young adults and can then face life's dilemmas without a clue because they were denied the necessary right to exercise autonomy and because they were overprotected as children.

Anonymous said...

Primetime, if your a parent, I would hate to be your child. At the age of 10 I was babysitting. There is nothing wrong with kids at this age to be at a park playing games. These boys are all good friends and would not let anything happen to each other. Shame on the Police for not being able to tell the differnce between a Nerf gun and a ral gun!!!! Is this what our tax money goes to???
We need to let our children be children, because this world makes them grow up way to fast!!
I just thank god that noe of these boys where hurt!!!
I do believe that these officers should apologize and have some kind of suspenion for this!

Anonymous said...

That last comment was to be addresed to MINDBOGGLED not primtime. Sorry about that.

mindboggled said...

To all who didn't get my point.

Those CHILDREN (9-11) should not be at a playground UNSUPERVISED. I don't care that they were playing there just should have been an adult somewhere in the area of these kids. If there was then this incident probably would not have happened.
I'm sick of the lousy parents that drop their kids off at a park or public pool and then disappear. I'm not saying you have to hover over them but be there if they need you in an emergency.

Would you let your kids go to a school dance if ther were no chaperones???????

mindboggled said...

Primetime said:

"In closing, perhaps we should all think like mindboggled; let's all just lock up our kids somewhere safe until they are young adults and can then face life's dilemmas without a clue because they were denied the necessary right to exercise autonomy and because they were overprotected as children."

Mindboggled replies
Perhaps we should let our kids run unsupervised in public where perverts and child molesters can teach them how to face lifes delemmas and help them exercise their right to obtain autonomy.

I case you were wondering it is not even LEGAL to leave your under 12 year old child HOME alone in PA let alone out roaming through a park unsupervised.

But hey , It's like free day care. Drop em off head to the bar and come back and pick them up later.

Anonymous said...

I have been saying for a long time that police have been getting too oversensitive. The police showed once again that they have no honor, beating up on little kids. And about the whole "thier lives Are on the line" thing- thats true about our troops, but not so about our police. the children will forever harbor a deep distrust and fear of police in general, which may be a good thing. Ive gotten in trouble for trusting the police