Op-ed: The NYPD's treatment of Jazmine Headley and child was a case study in needless trauma

30 December 2018

By Tanya Krupat and Susan Chinitz

The recent disturbing video of police officers and security officers wrenching Jazmine Headley’s 1-year-old son from her arms as they arrest her in a Brooklyn Human Resources Administration office has sparked a needed conversation about the criminalization of the working poor. The violent and chaotic arrest is shocking not only because of the circumstances that led to it, but for the trauma inflicted on mother and son.

Having advocated for policies to safeguard children at the time of a parent’s arrest for more than a decade, we find the lack of consideration and concern for the well-being of Headley’s child by any of the professionals involved to be striking.

The two most adverse circumstances that can affect a child this age occurred in the episode we saw on video: excessive fear in response to the aggression of the arresting officers and separation from his mother. Though many people think that infants are too young to register events that occur around them, this experience will likely stay with this child for the foreseeable future.

It is too late to undo what happened to Headley and her son, but concrete steps can be taken swiftly to ensure that this does not happen again. All law enforcement agencies should take immediate action to implement comprehensive child-sensitive arrest protocols and substantive training for all arresting officers informed by child development and trauma experts.

We have a roadmap to get there. In 2013, the International Association of Chiefs of Police issued a model protocol, titled “Safeguarding Children at the Time of Arrest.” In 2014, the Albany Police Department implemented a child-sensitive arrest protocol, accompanied by training, data collection and community-based resource referrals.

Closer to home, the NYPD began piloting a protocol in 2017 in their Brooklyn South precincts to reduce children’s exposure to the arrest of their parent and ensure the child is placed with an appropriate caregiver.

Now, it is time to do more.

Whenever possible, child-sensitive arrest protocol should include: arresting the parent out of the child’s sight, not handcuffing the parent in front of the child or using a siren, allowing the parent access to their cell phone to arrange care for the child, and allowing the parent to comfort and explain to the child what is happening.

All individuals who are arrested should be asked whether they are responsible for a child in need of alternative caregiving arrangements so that no child is left unattended. This protocol should cover all arrest scenarios, including warrants, which should be executed when children are least likely to be in the home.

Monitoring implementation of a child-sensitive arrest protocol is critical. Law enforcement agencies should collect and report on data about how many children are present at the time of a parent’s arrest so that New York City can ensure supportive services are available to children and families.

We don’t know how many children in New York City have witnessed the arrest of a parent, but we know Headley’s son is not alone. The New York City Criminal Justice Agency reported that in 2017, more than 35,000 children were living with the person arrested at the time of the arrest. Nationwide, experts estimate that more than a million children a year have witnessed the arrest of a caregiver.

No one should endure the needless trauma Headley and her infant child were subjected to. New York City has witnessed the problem and has the tools to address it right away. Now is the moment for our leaders to ensure arrests are conducted in ways that are humane, compassionate and child-sensitive. Our city’s children deserve no less and are counting on us to deliver.

Krupat, LMSW, MPH, is director of the Osborne Association’s Center for Justice Across Generations. Chinitz, Psy. D., is a licensed clinical psychologist.

Published in the New York Daily News.