Is This Zero Tolerance?

A story from last week brought two very interesting reactions from Premium readers (the story wasn’t in the free edition).

So, first, here’s the story, from True’s 8 August 2010 issue:

Just Four Laughs

Three friends in Whitehall, Pa., wrapped a fourth in plastic to videotape a stunt to post online. They dropped the wrapped boy off in a Kmart parking lot, waited for people to notice him, and then drove up, threw him into the trunk, and drove off again. “I thought it was obvious we were goofing around,” said Aaron D. Coutumas, who will be a high school senior this fall. But a witness called the cops, thinking it was a kidnaping. Within minutes, their car was surrounded by police cruisers, and the boys found themselves at gunpoint. “It’s a joke! It’s a joke!” called a muffled voice from the trunk. Unamused officers charged all four boys with disorderly conduct. As for the video, it’s not coming to a web site near you: since all four boys wanted to be in the video, none of them would hold the camera, and thus none of the action was recorded. (Allentown Morning Call) …Pity: it would have make a good premiere of “Keystone Kriminals”.

Michael in Texas is first:

This is another case of zero tolerance gone seriously wrong. To arrest teenagers for playing a prank that had no chance of causing harm to anyone is a serious flaw to the justice system and certainly sends a bad message to all other kids. ‘Don’t think, don’t play, and above all NEVER act like a kid.’ Whatever happened to the common sense approach of telling them to stop what they are doing and explain why so they might actually learn something?

And then the other side of the same coin, from Alan in Utah:

When I was 14 I shoplifted from a 7-Eleven. They called the cops and I was arrested and taken to the police station. They put me in a holding cell by myself for I don’t know how long. Then this *huge* man was manhandled in by 3 officers and slammed on to the other cot in my cell. He stared at me all night long. I’ve been in some truly scary situations since then, but none of them have compared to this. My mom came and picked me up the next morning. Longest night I have ever had.

Luckily for me, the store manager didn’t press charges. It also turns out that the cops called my mom that night and she told them to leave me overnight and let me stew in my own stupidity. The best part of this is, a few months later I saw the same scary man get out of a police car in uniform. To this day I don’t put my hands in my pockets in a store unless I have a damn good reason. It’s been more than 30 years. Those boys should have been dragged in and treated roughly. They should have had the living tar scared right out of them. But they should *not* have been charged with a crime that will label them, will prevent them from getting jobs.

Seeing It Both Ways

I’m of mixed mind here. Getting charged will “scare the tar” out of these kids! But I’m willing to bet they won’t be saddled by a criminal record: either the charges will be dropped, or (if it gets that far) the judge will come up with a good compromise.

Alan learned a great lesson, but some cop had to spend 6-8 hours sitting in jail “staring” at him; that’s one dedicated scary looking “*huge* man” cop to take the time to do that! The investment paid off: he turned a life around.

But what a risk — these days, I’d bet half the parents in the country would at least threaten to sue the police for doing something like that, and some actually would. Alan’s mom did some great “tough love” too. I hope Alan thanked her for that!

So, do you think it’s an example of zero tolerance? Why or why not? Comment below.

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48 Comments on “Is This Zero Tolerance?

  1. I don’t see this as a ZT issue. Just transporting a person in a trunk is dangerous. That would be cause for a ticket, right there. Pulling a prank that has the police thinking you are committing a violent felony is even more dangerous. What if one of the kids made an unexpected movement that caused one of the officers to discharge his weapon? Cops are human. They make mistakes. That would ruin the kid’s life and the officer’s, over a prank. The charge seems justified to me.

  2. One day there will be a Supreme Court ruling on the crime of “Disorderly Conduct”, one I suspect will be that it’s too vague to be constitutionally valid. Until then, it’s a catch-all for every “crime” that offends any particular cop’s sensitivities. Notice that there was no other “crime” to be charged with.

    We’ve pulled similar stunts as these kids, and we were in our 30’s/40’s. In summary, it involved a bunch of us working out of town, staying at a hotel, and getting totally blind stinking drunk. And one of our co-workers passed out. So we duct-taped him in the nude to a rolling chair, rolled him out to the elevator, and then hit every button.

    As for Scared Straight, that’s a pretty fairy tale. Them that learn are able to do so from the arrest experience; no need for overnight stays. As a parent, I can tell you that I will never let one of my kids spend the night in jail as long as I’m able to make their bail. And yes, I’ve been in jail a number of times, as a teen and as an adult.

    As for the What-If’s, those are endless. As a gun owner, the law holds ME to an accountability that nearly renders my 2nd Amendment right worthless. I draw and shoot only when my choice is to be tried by 12 or carried by 6. I expect no less accountability from the police. Accidental discharge in the hands of a professional is intolerable.

    As for those kids, it was a dumb stunt. Get over it. Not the first, won’t be the last, and no amount of laws or charges will change it.

  3. I really don’t see this as a zero tolerance issue. Their actions caused police response as if a crime was being committed. In my opinion, it’s rather along the same lines as filing a false police report because it pulls the police officers off legitimate work for something that isn’t actually a crime. And these boys are old enough to be able to think through the potential consequences of their actions. I think being charged with disorderly conduct is an appropriate response, though I would hope that the judge works out a compromise that will help them learn from the experience.

  4. This isn’t ZT – it’s a real live misdemeanor crime. They ought to be prosecuted as juveniles (which record will not follow them into adulthood), and put on probation.

    If this really is nothing, that will become obvious during that period of supervision, and when it ends, it’s over; if this is indicative of something worse – psychiatrically or criminologically – that will show as well, and we can deal with it.

  5. Pranks can be dangerous.

    I recall many years ago a story about a couple of guys in a restaurant were suddenly confronted by two more guys that just entered. They started a fight that ended up outside and shots were being fired. Coincidentally two police officers unwittingly drove up during the shooting and quickly subdued everyone involved. As it turned out, all four knew each other and were firing blanks and the whole thing was staged to catch the reaction of the public for their psychology class.

    It leaves one with strong mixed emotions, no one was hurt but…HOW STUPID CAN YOU BE??

    They were indeed lucky that the officers didn’t open fire — or that there were undercover cops dining at the time, who would perhaps shoot the aggressors to contain the situation. Or armed civilians, or…. -rc

  6. I’m in agreement with those who say this is not Zero Tolerance. If I were to see something like that happening, I would have called the police. This is an example of a joke that’s not funny. It’s one thing to scare someone silly, but to scare someone into calling the police? That’s pretty dumb.

  7. This isn’t ZT. The kids played a prank, they got caught, the cops did the right thing.

    Look, I can’t tell you how many times I caught somebody doing something wrong and then copped out by saying “I was just joking”. My dad, a cop in Denver, even tells the story about how a BK was held up while he sat in the lobby. When the crook realized that the cop had just caught him, he said “I was just joking around”.

    Look, the kids played a dangerous prank that LOOKED like a crime. The cops have no choice other than to treat the apparent crime as one. While it is possible that no crime was committed – you can’t just take people at their word.

    If it looks like a crime, and smells like a crime, treat it as a crime until you have better than a voice from a trunk saying that it isn’t.

  8. No, I don’t believe this to be zero tolerance at all. While still a prank, police officers were still called out meaning they could not be sent to a *REAL* crime if it were in progress.
    It should be considered filing a false police report.

    But the kids didn’t “file” a police report, or even call this in; a witness did. So the witness should be arrested for “filing” a false police report? -rc

  9. OK, kids do stupid stuff. I’ve done some myself.

    On the other hand, I was a teacher for several years in Flint, MI. One day while teaching a 6th grade class, a parole officer in plain clothes came into class looking for somebody. Half the kids in class tried to hide behind their books. When I was a kid, I didn’t know what a parole officer was. Half of the kids in class not only knew who he was, but had a professional relationship with him – half of the kids in my class were active criminals, and I, as their teacher, wasn’t allowed to know about it. I suddenly realized why my stuff was always getting stolen and broken in class.

    I asked the police liaison officer what the percentage of kids in the whole school with active police records was, he guessed at least a third. And as their teacher, I wasn’t allowed to know who, or for what. Following the police reports, even without names, it was obvious that the crimes ran the whole gamut, from theft, especially car theft, to drug dealing, gang violence, and manslaughter. One judge during a campaign, made the statement that too many dropouts were on the streets committing crimes, and he was determined to get them back in the schools. My point is, that they would still be committing crimes, but just doing it in school.

    It also became obvious that there were groups of car theft criminals that essentially ran schools much like Fagan’s, that used children to steal cars, because if the kids were caught, they wouldn’t get punished very badly, their records would be sealed, and no one would be allowed to know.
    This system we have for dealing with juvenile crime has greased the skids to make it easier for children to begin a life of crime. And made life for teachers incredibly more difficult.

    Try this yourself: Try to find out what percentage of students in your local middle and high school have active police records. Even if the names are sealed, the answer will probably shock you.

  10. A prank is something that causes no real trouble and does NOT disturb many people. A fake kidnapping is NOT a prank. It’s just as bad as a one I heard of back in the 1990s, some guys thought to stir a person up by staging a faked armed kidnap of them from their mate’s work on his birthday. They enter with ski masks and realistic toy guns. The end result was three ‘fake’ kidnappers in intensive care for some time. They looked real, they acted real, and the armed security guard visiting his wife defended the people and shot them.

    The same could have happened here if an off duty police officer was on hand and decided to intervene using his firearm, as he would have been entitled to do in most jurisdictions, using his firearm to stop a felony. How would the kids feel then? I think they should get a few hundred hours community service as a minimum, to give them time to reflect on their stupidity. Mother nature has a simple answer for stupidity, they’re the first to die.

  11. I side with Stefani, and agree with Scott and Sue too. No ZT here, the police responded to a genuinely worried call, discovered (without harm!) that it was a fake crime and yielded to the judge. Nothing wrong so far in my opinion.

    Now for Alan’s experience: I am father of two males, already grown and in good state with police (so far!) that, presented with the same case as Alan, would have had the same treatment if I could have my hand in it. The many police services in Spain (local, state, guardia civil, etc.) had a fame of being rough, but I personally know they would spend their time AND money in “instructing” first, young offenders, the way to do things right.

  12. This is not ZT. It’s the same as if they had a friend behind the counter of a convenience story and pretended to rob him. If a regular customer came in and saw that, they’d be expected to call the police about a hold up. Why is reporting someone being thrown in a trunk any different?

  13. I don’t think this is ZT. These kids were trying to attract attention, and were in fact guilty of disorderly conduct.

    It’s not clear from the story just how old they are, but given that one is to be a High school senior this year, it seems likely they’re still under 18. It is inconceivable that they would be charged as adults, so they will have an opportunity to learn a lesson without permanent consequences.

    My father always told me that if I wound up in jail for my own stupidity, I’d have to spend a night. If I really was innocent, he’d do whatever he could to get me out immediately. Fortunately that never happened, but I can imagine I’d have been terrified if I’d been through Alan’s lesson. In fact, I can see my father suggesting such a lesson to the police. Perhaps Alan’s mother had just such a reinforcement in mind as well?

    Bottom line, let the judge in the case do his job. It’s likely these kids will get probation and community service with no permanent record. I find its far more usual for a juvenile that commits a truly horrible crime to be charged as a juvenile when they really do deserve to be charged as adults.

  14. Zero tolerance? Anyone who believes that must expect the police officers to be psychic so they will know when “it’s just kids being playful” and when something is a serious matter.

    The boys were only charged with disorderly conduct. Hardly life altering charges. I support the charges – but do expect them to be dropped. I also think a few dozen hours of community service is a good idea. They obviously have way too much time and energy if they thought that faking a kidnapping was funny.

    Let them sweat for a while. Maybe they will think twice before they get “playful” in such an obnoxious fashion.

  15. I don’t believe this qualified as a case of Zero Tolerance. The boys weren’t charged based on some arbitrary law with no consideration on the part of law enforcement, they were charged with creating a public nuisance, which is exactly what they did. Too many people get away with more serious offenses with not so much as a slap on the wrist, that more people need to be taught a lesson in civic responsibility. A forward-thinking, responsible judge might place them on some form of deferred adjudication based on community service work during the appropriate period, resulting in a dismissal of all charges upon completion. That way a lesson could be learned without having a criminal record for life.

  16. The response of the officers is not Zero Tolerance. There are so many things that could have gone horribly wrong on this prank. Not to mention the boys are clearly obliviots.

    For starters, there are a lot more people out carrying guns – legally. Would imminent danger have applied in this scenario? And if it didn’t would the person holding the gun know? Could the “kidnappers” have been shot by a civilian?

    High school aged folks haven’t been driving long either, and that in itself is increased risk for disaster — as someone else pointed out.

    Moreover, where is the funny part? Is it supposed to be funny to pretend to be kidnapped? Who are they “pranking”? Let’s say they didn’t get into trouble, who would they be laughing at? The cops for doing their job? The innocent bystanders for being concerned? Sorry, but I don’t get it.

  17. First, there are a *lot* of things to thank my mother for, and I’ve been doing what I can since my mid-20s.

    As to the officer taking the time, I’m pretty sure he viewed it as preventative medicine. That wasn’t my first time shoplifting, it was just the first time I got caught. It *was* the last time.

    Isn’t it better to spend the extra time once, up front, to actually solve a problem than it is to just do enough to remove or hide the symptoms and spend a lot of extra time, multiple times, on the other end?

    Sure. But it’s a lot easier to say “Let someone else do it. I’m going to go home and sleep in my own bed.” So really: don’t discount the serious effort the cop went to, almost certainly on his own time. -rc

  18. First of all, let me paraphrase that 99% of cops give the rest of them a bad name. THAT being said, it’s also fairly common knowledge that most cops (at least, most that *I* have personally known) were either bullies or bullied in High School. In either case there’s a fair amount of “control-phreak” in the aforementioned 99%. The remaining 1% do seem, IMHO, to possess a sense of humor. None of the cops in that story appear to fall into that oneth (1th) percentile.

  19. I don’t think this is ZT at all. I agree that they should be tried as juveniles, provided this is the first offense, and should receive some sort of punishment. The police response warrants this. Then, if it’s an isolated incident, the record won’t follow them into adulthood. They need a good lesson on what is appropriate and what is not.

  20. If you create a “prank” that looks like a kidnapping, expect to be treated as a kidnapper. If the police sees something like this and doesn’t take action, they are not doing their jobs.

    Reminds me of a “prank” of bunch of brats firing paintball guns at passersby as a “prank drive-by shooting”. That is about as (non)sensible.

  21. Disorderly conduct – 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5503

    § 5503. Disorderly conduct.
    (a) Offense defined.–A person is guilty of disorderly conduct if, with intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof, he:
    (1) engages in fighting or threatening, or in violent or tumultuous behavior;
    (2) makes unreasonable noise;
    (3) uses obscene language, or makes an obscene gesture; or
    (4) creates a hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act which serves no legitimate purpose of the actor.
    (b) Grading.–An offense under this section is a misdemeanor of the third degree if the intent of the actor is to cause substantial harm or serious inconvenience, or if he persists in disorderly conduct after reasonable warning or request to desist. Otherwise disorderly conduct is a summary offense.
    (c) Definition.–As used in this section the word “public” means affecting or likely to affect persons in a place to which the public or a substantial group has access; among the places included are highways, transport facilities, schools, prisons, apartment houses, places of business or amusement, any neighborhood, or any premises which are open to the public.
    Just figured I’d put in the actual statute those kids are charged under. So, anything that creates an inconvenience or annoyance to the “public” is a crime. Since when is it the Duty of the individual to ensure that the “public” is not inconvenienced or annoyed?

    The owner of this blog can be arrested for Disorderly Conduct since many people have been annoyed by some of the opinions put forth here. Conviction, of course, would be nearly impossible, but even Freedom of Speech has come under fire in Schenk v U.S. (1919) which was later overturned by Brandenburg v Ohio (1968).

    I find it disturbing that so many STILL believe that an action, expression, or speech must contain “socially redeeming value”, especially as defined by a handful of individuals, otherwise it constitutes a criminal act.
    The Protestant Work Ethic is alive and well. Idle hands are the Devil’s playground; work them ’til they collapse in order to protect them from doing anything frivolous and of no worth. (100’s of hours of community service, someone?)

    Thou Shalt NOT! doesn’t apply only to some famous 10-item list, but anything and everything I deem unworthy.

  22. It’s not “zero tolerance” — it really was “disorderly conduct”. AND I think it was a GREAT prank, and entirely worth the whole police ordeal. I am a 55 yr old grandmother, much too respectable for my own good; dang, I wish I had an incident like this to look back on! Those boys may feel chastened for a year or two — eh, maybe a month or two. And by the time they’re my age, it will be funnier than ever, and a great story for their grandkids.

    Honest to goodness, this society gets more uptight and straitlaced (and risk-averse) by the day. I won’t tell any of you to lighten up; your agitation is what provides the fun!

  23. I don’t think they should have been charged, just given a good talking to by the cops. A good policeman knows how to put the fear in a kid without resorting to charging them with a crime for, well, acting like a teenager.

    Of course, if this wasn’t the first time these kids had done something that silly then charges might be necessary.

  24. To comment on the original story plus Randy’s comments:

    “It also turns out that the cops called my mom that night and she told them to leave me overnight and let me stew in my own stupidity.” … Alan’s mom did some great “tough love” too. I hope Alan thanked her for that!

    In about 2001 my 14 or 15 YO son was (not for the first time) held by the LA County Sheriff’s, who called me to come and get him, at night. I asked them if they could just keep him overnight, as if I weren’t home to get this call. They said they’d charge me with child neglect if I didn’t come in. I went right in. He was never held more than a few hours. I don’t think big-town cops have the same attitude, or maybe capability, to do this scare tactic.

  25. What they did absolutely was “disorderly conduct”. Police responding to the reported kidnapping may have had to divert from an actual emergency. A concerned citizen could have taken it on himself to “rescue” the obliviot in the trunk, with possible consequences. By the time a kid is a senior in high school, you’d think he’d have more sense than that. (Or, maybe not!)

  26. No, it’s not ZT to stop antics that inspire alarm and panic among the public. “Charged with disorderly conduct” generally means “issued a summons to appear in court” not handcuffed and hauled off to jail. The charges will either be dropped or result in a lecture from a judge and suspended sentences.

    Let us not confuse ZT with overreaction to genuine misdemeanors. ZT, as I understand it, is the mindless extension of an originally sensible rule of social behavior to an absurd extreme; e.g., “no weapons in school” becomes “suspended for having a butter knife to slice an apple.” Overreaction is plain vindictiveness towards someone who disturbed a cop’s doughnut break; e.g., Tasering a kid who played his boombox too loudly.

    Both ZT and overreaction are inappropriate abuses of power. But they’re two different things. ZT is dumb, overreaction is wicked.

  27. These kids knew they were pulling a stunt in front of witnesses to create the image of a bizarre kidnapping. Being charged with disorderly conduct is absolutely an appropriate reaction given all the world of unknowns that could have resulted from the stunt they pulled.

    Because the charges themselves are not particularly serious, I have a VERY hard time believing that even a trial/conviction of them will hold these kids back at all. Especially if they just continue with good lives. If they take it as a serious lesson learned and do not turn it into a life of cop-hating attitudes and actions, this will be the last anyone ever talks about the whole thing.

    Remember: most job applications require you to disclose felonies, no one cares if you got convicted of misdemeanor disorderly conduct when you were 17, it’s practically a rite of passage just as long as they don’t carry it into their twenties and thirties.

  28. This reminds me of an episode of “What Would You Do?”, a show that examines what the average person would do in a scenario where someone might need help. Do you help a person who’s better dressed than someone who’s wearing ratty jeans? Does ethnicity play a part? How about the attractiveness of the person?

    For one such scenario, they made it seem like a sorority/fraternity hazing ritual. Even though in one version of the scene had a girl actually asking for help, many of the passersby just thought it was funny. Some even video taped or took pictures with their phones.

    I would rather call the cops and be wrong about thinking it was serious, than not call them and find out it was.

    I also agree with Robb. The charges are not serious enough to cause them problems later if they straighten up now.

  29. In this day of kids being killed, directly or indirectly, by bullying … I don’t see this as a case of ZT. First, until they were caught and brought in there was no way to guess at intent; we still don’t know for certain that the wrapped boy isn’t saying it was a joke to avoid possible consequences to telling the truth.

    And, since no one appears to have realized it, I’d like to point out that wrapping someone in plastic — with what the heat index has been nationwide — could have led to the boy’s death, particularly shoved into a car trunk. I just hope that someone makes clear to them precisely how truly DANGEROUS their actions were, and how they could have ended up minus a friend/victim.

  30. I don’t consider this to be zero tolerance at all. It is perhaps a slight over-reaction, but had they visibly been filming it, it would have been more clear that it was indeed a prank. By not having a camera, it would look like they are kidnapping someone (how many kidnappers video their actions?)

    Their conduct was indeed disorderly; it caused alarm to civilians, and wasted the police’s time.

  31. I was arrested and “charged” with disorderly conduct and interfering with traffic during spring break in Fort Lauderdale along with seven other “college boys” — Obviously this was years ago and, of course, “alcohol was involved.”

    I have never been arrested since. However, that decades old “charge” remains on my record and has been brought up as recently as two years ago following a minor traffic accident. These kids shouldn’t worry about the prank or the arrest. They will have a good story to tell and no one (who counts) will ever suggest they did anything wrong.

    The overreaction by the police is difficult to understand or appreciate. This was a “prank.” Such actions are often called “practical jokes.” Although some of the police officers may not be familiar with things like this, you would think that they would have realized what was going on or one of their superiors would have noticed the situation before making fools out of themselves over the conduct of a bunch of kids.

    I don’t think this fits the classic “zero tolerance” situation. The police were just being stupid. They probably got mad because they were fooled. I am sure they are the butt of jokes around the police station.

    Of course, the kids were being stupid too. Remember, they are kids (and boys at that). Fooling the cops was probably one goal of their plan. They were trying to “act” like criminals. They got the “stupid criminal” part of that act down pretty well.

  32. Maybe it’s just me, but it doesn’t sound like “John in Florida” learned much from his own arrest. Sounds like he was acting like an alcohol-addled ass then, and he’s talking like one now. “Boys will be boys,” huh? What a feeble excuse for anyone’s actions.
    The police were “stupid” to respond in force to a report of a severe felony in progress? I don’t think so. He’s sure the officers are the “butt of jokes” at the station for getting things under control and sorting things out? I doubt it, but maybe among the idiot “boys will be boys” cops!
    At least John’s right about one thing: the boys were being stupid.
    As Randy said at the start, the charges could well be dropped long before trial, or (perhaps more likely) the judge will come up with a creative punishment in exchange for expunging their arrest record (deferred adjudication).
    To me, it sounds like it was handled reasonably well: a low-level response once it was confirmed to not be a real felony in progress.

  33. Remember Chinese fire drills? When a car is stopped at a red light, everybody jumps out and runs around the car, getting back in at different positions. The whole thing might take 30 seconds out of a 2-minute red light. No purpose to it except to have a little fun, and maybe to make everyone else look. But for a lot of people here, it has no purpose, it’s not funny, and it disrupts society or the police or bystanders or somebody. And with Disorderly Conduct being a “crime” these days, I guess the jails will be overcrowded with bookings.
    (Disorderly Conduct is subject to a maximum of 90 days in jail and/or $1,000 fine. So you don’t just get a ticket for it; you do get arrested and booked. Funny how it’s used when no other actual crime has been committed.)
    The police do have discretion. Not every call MUST result in a criminal charge. The fact that they threw the responsibility onto the D.A. shows their inability to use discretion on their own. The only lesson to be learned by these boys is to mistrust the police as overreaching powermongers.

  34. In all jurisdictions that I am aware of, police respond to felonies in progress at high speed with lights and siren. This does create a small but measurable risk for both the responding officer and the general public. This risk to the public is generally considered acceptable because the consequences of ignoring life-threatening crime are much worse.
    For those few who have written that disorderly conduct was too severe a charge, let me ask this: If one of the responding officers had been involved in an accident that cost the life of your spouse or child, what would the appropriate charges be?
    Whether or not they intended to, they did deliberately undertake actions that injected a little extra danger into the lives of many complete strangers, simply because they found it amusing to do so. That does deserve some form of punishment, even if it is only light punishment.

  35. The difference in these two comments illustrate a huge change in this country; that of moving from “policing” to “law enforcement”. When we policed, Police Officers had the latitude to do something like in the second comment. Now, Law Enforcement Officers must enforce the letter of the law and have very little leeway in handling a case, or their department gets sued. This, I believe, is the root of our current ZT state of affairs.

  36. For some reason, I am reminded of an episode of “Dragnet” (supposedly true stories) I saw many (too many) years ago.
    There had just been an armed robbery (bank?), where a police officer had been shot (killed?), and there was an APB out for the getaway car. A car matching the description was spotted, and the plates on the car didn’t belong to it. When the police turned the lights and sirens on, the car took off. During the chase, dozens of police cars were involved. (After all, an officer had just been shot by the people they believed they were chasing.) They finally stopped the car, surrounding it with dozens of police, all with weapons drawn.
    It turns out that there were a couple of young people in the car who thought it would be “fun” to run from the police. They just happened to have a car that matched the description, and they had two cars with new plates, and happened to put the wrong plates on each car.
    I don’t recall if they ever got the real robbers.
    Simple “prank”?

  37. “Life does not cease to be funny when somebody dies, anymore than it ceases to be serious when somebody laughs.” ~ George Berhard Shaw
    Sadly, I see there is an abundance of humorless people. According to the US Census Bureau, nearly 154,000 people die globally each and every day. If you never allow yourself some amusement (even pointless attempts) all because it might add one or two more to those thousands (but probably won’t), then you’re demanding that the rest of us lead humorless lives to comply with your opinion. What bothers me is that apparently the police now criminalize humor, as well.
    Not surprising since the Congressional hearings in the 1950’s that decided comic books led youngsters to lives of crime, and even today, video games are the big bugaboo. Watch out, kids, never attempt to amuse yourselves. There will be adults to slap you down, permanently. (And we blame the schools for destroying our kids’ self-esteem.)
    “We have met the enemy and it is us.” ~ Pogo (Walt Kelly)

    Humor isn’t criminal. It’s forcing it on others in a way that makes them feel threatened or fearful that makes their conduct “disorderly”. -rc

  38. Well, hmmmmm. Zero tolerance or not?? Let me just put it to you like this….I went to a secular HS and as a Senior prank (notice I used the word “prank”, there) we “got hold” of the vice principal’s car, and managed to…ummm, well, “insert”, it into the school hallway by removing the doors first (we also had to kind of tip it onto its side, but that’s another story….) and THEN we scooted out of there on our Senior “trip” BEFORE anyone else came in to the school that morning. That was more than….ok, well a lady never admits to her true age, now does she? Let’s just say its been a VERY long time ago, and I think they CONTINUE to this day to have a (legitimate) ban on Senior pranks……

  39. Marsha from Virginia:
    So nothing happened when you did the little “prank” with the vice principal’s car. Fine.
    But, suppose someone had seen you “stealing” the car and called the cops. Would you expect them to let you go, simply because you told them “we’re not really stealing it, it’s just a prank”?

  40. I’m sorry for all you folks that think the police “over re-acted” or were “stupid” for arresting those so called kids.
    With all the gangs runnings around that are mostly ALL kids–I really can’t blame the police for doing their jobs. Many people are hurt and/or killed by gang members every day. The police are regular people-not mind readers or clairvoyants. They have to take EVERY situation as real. Think about all the hollaring that would go on if such a kidnapping case was treated lightly and ended in a fatality.
    Also–how else are the young people going to learn to be adult if the consequences don’t match the crime? If they are not reined in when doing small things, it WILL esculate into major things quickly.
    I know a lot of folks don’t agree with me (as I read so many of the comments). But this is MY opinion and I’m sticking to it. What if it was you in trouble being ignored because the perp calls out “It’s just a joke”???

  41. (Re Ken from New York’s response, dated Aug 30, 2010) Ken, I’m not sure if you missed it or if my Droid (nicknamed “Lucy” by one of my “co-horts” from back in the day), just neglected to put the all-important word LEGITIMATE with the words “Senior prank” and “banned”… let me fill in the full story, as much as I can, without doing harm to anyone else, or their present day careers.
    This was a VERY tiny private (as I said, secular) school, where everyone knew everyone else, as well as their business and as it turned out, the “prankee” lived about 500 yards from the front door of the school, and knew all about what was going down that night. (We also stapled a bunch of cups together in the teacher’s lounge, then filled them with water and food coloring…none of this, I hasten to add, was in any way my idea, though I went along with it because I was a teenager, and as teenagers, you do incredibly stupid things because your friends think it’s a good idea at the time. Get my point, Ken??)
    We did NOT know that at the time, and I think that’s probably a good thing, because there were many, many of us shouting that we were simply going too far. But it was considered (waaay back then) a “rite of passage”, which today has been mostly lost (or misplaced) amongst our Zero Tolerance Policies for kids. We are provided with no judgment calls anymore when it comes to allowing our kids to make mistakes within a certain framework (which makes teaching them how and why Life is what It is…well, what It is).
    Two last (short) points, Ken from New York: A) this happened decades ago, which still doesn’t make what we did that night “ok”, in my book…and B) I think if the nice police officers had hauled our butts off to jail overnight for swiping that car (AND making a mess of the teacher’s lounge), a few more of my cohorts in crime would actually STILL be walking among us, not merely “living in infamy”.

  42. Occasionally there is someone who goes over Niagara Falls in a barrel, or scales a skyscraper like it’s a mountain. All of which is illegal (Trespassing, Reckless Endangerment). So naturally, when they do it, they’re arrested. They know that, but it’s worth it to them for the accomplishment. So, they’re willing to do the time (or fine) for the crime. As I said, they also KNOW that it’s a crime.
    For these kids, they didn’t know that they’d committed some kind of crime. In fact, the ONLY crime committed was inconveniencing the public.
    The only other thing I’m inclined to mention is that recent comments concern whether the police should have even responded. Well, of COURSE, they should have responded. That is not the issue. The issue is the charges afterward. And as I said, every call does not HAVE to result in some criminal charge. THAT would be Zero Tolerance.

  43. I don’t think they should be charged with a crime, but they should be billed for the time spent dealing with it before it became obvious it was a fake.
    What they did is equivalent to “filing a false report”. Sure, they didn’t call the police themselves. But they clearly intended for the witnesses to believe something was happening that required the police.
    So bill them for the cost of the multiple officers who responded, the 911 operators who took the calls, the dispatchers who sent them out, the sergeants who booked them, and the prosecutors who had to review the case before deciding not to file charges.

  44. I like to call it the “wussification” of America. A prank is a prank, and yes, boys will be boys. I couldn’t list all the dumb things I did as a teenager, not to mention all the things I did while in college.
    The boys pulled off a near successful prank. That doesn’t mean that stringent punishments should be placed on the “offending” party. From the outside looking in, sure the police being called out is a reasonable response. Upon arriving and learning the details, no harm, no foul. The kids get their 15 minutes of fame and a lesson in responsibility and move on. I agree with Marsha. It is a story they can tell later.
    We as a society have got to learn to loosen up a bit. We get upset that our kids are getting more obese with each passing year (read the news recently?) and yet parents and schools don’t push physical education/recess/health and fitness. From early on we sit our kids down in front of the babysitter, A.K.A. the television, and expect them to be well-rounded, responsible adults upon graduating high school and entering the work force. We talk about values and the importance of family and yet we do everything we can to push the education of our children off on others. Between a less than stellar education system (nationally) and extremely sub-par television programming, our youth are left with very little in the way of positive mentorship.
    In today’s world of “reality” television (Jersey Shore? Really?) and dismal personal responsibility on the part of parents, it isn’t any wonder that the majority of these comments say that the kids deserve what they got. Give it a rest. “You” say those things like you never did anything stupid and irresponsible while growing up.
    We blame our education system for not teaching our kids what is right and wrong. Not their responsibility. Schools, at the most basic level teach Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and History, with successively higher level farther on. We hope that some social responsibility and civic thinking is going to be rolled into that at some point, but isn’t it your responsibility as a parent to ensure that your child is getting the right moral lessons? A five-minute speech at dinner isn’t going to do the trick. It has to be a continuous process throughout a kid’s entire time under your roof.
    Give it a rest.

  45. I’m in my mid 40s and grew up in a small town, prior to the “wussification” of the country. Those kids got what I would have gotten had I pulled the same stunt when I was their age. I did stupid and irresponsible things at that age, and got what I deserved when I got caught. Prank = minor “crime”? Minor but memorable punishment. The charge they got wouldn’t have lead to any inconvenience as an adult, but sure would have taught them a lesson about what’s “too far”. As long as the judge gives them the same type of appropriate “wrist-slap” they would have given me 30 yrs ago for the same stunt, I see nothing at all wrong with what anyone involved in this story did. Not even the kids. Boys will be boys, but as long as the punishment fits the crime, they should take it like men, and learn something from it.

  46. When my son was held by LA County Sheriffs, and i was called to come get him, I asked if he could stay there a while to learn a lesson (it was also late at night). I was told that would be “child abandonment” (might have been “neglect”, I forget). So I had to come get him right away.

  47. I’m glad my kids’ schools don’t have ZT. Can you imagine what would have happened in a ZT school when my 7-year-old son (1st grade) drew for their lesson on Martin Luther King, Jr., two stick figures. The obviously “white” stick figure was pointing a gun at the obviously “black” stick figure, who was laying in a pool of blood.

    And indeed, I’m sure that was his honest impression of the event after their “lesson” on the subject. That’s called feedback! If the school doesn’t like it, the proper course of action is to review the teacher’s presentation, not your kid’s psyche. Yet in most schools today…. -rc

  48. Ken in New York — I saw that episode, too, but it was “Adam-12” and not “Dragnet” that it was on. “Adam-12” was about the uniformed officers on patrol.
    This incident was most certainly not a case of ZT run amok. It was a case of the police doing their duty.
    There are pranks and then there are pranks. Marsha from Virginia had a story about 2 pranks that also violated several laws (trespassing, breaking and entering, grand theft auto and malicious mischief, to name a few off the top of my head) but they did not involve wrapping someone in plastic and leaving him in the street — there was little risk to the public and to the persons involved. In the case Randy laid out for us there was MUCH risk to the public and to the parties involved, but the risk to the public did not really start until the police were called. But think about this — Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Expression do NOT give us the right to yell “FIRE!” in a crowded room (theater, concert hall, whatever) or to JOKE with the TSA screeners (or anyone else in an airport) about hijacking a plane or some other ‘terrorist’ act. I am not saying that what these kids did was a ‘terrorist act’ but in today’s hyped-up scared society if it looks like a kidnapping then it just might really be a kidnapping and it HAS to be investigated.
    I hope these kids did go before a judge who was still young enough to remember his/her own HS days but also old enough to be able to give them a lecture like a grandparent.

    I didn’t take Ken’s post as an example of ZT; he was just reminded of the episode that shows how cops have to sort through very incriminating-looking circumstances to discover that there isn’t really a serious crime involved. It’s very akin to the original situation where it looks serious, but is more of a prank. But yes, in both cases a pretty stern lecture is called for. -rc


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