A panel of experts called together by Bullhead City Mayor Jack Hakim, left, address questions of the nearly 50 people who attended a special community meeting to address child safety and substance abuse.
BULLHEAD CITY, ARIZ. —About 50 people attended a special community meeting to address concerns related to child safety, drug abuse and how much the people of Bullhead City should put up with when it comes to repeat offenders. Mayor Jack Hakim and Councilwoman Kathy Bruck called the meeting in the wake of the tragedy surrounding last month’s murder of 8-year old Isabella Grogan-Connella, better known by her nickname—Bella.
Representatives from more than a dozen agencies from law enforcement and victim services to counselors and church organizations attended the Tuesday night meeting at the Bullhead City Senior Nutrition Center.
Early on parents asked questions related to providing tools to their children to help them help themselves in the event of an attack. Some questioned whether it was legal to give children tasers or pepper spray while others asked if the police department could offer self-defense classes. While understanding their desire to keep their children safe, police chief Brian Williamson reminded parents that their actions could have unintended consequences.
“To have a child carry a taser or pepper spray you would have to, as a parent, feel very comfortable that, one, they know what they’re doing, and two, that they’re going to use it appropriately,” Williamson said. “In many instances, kids will be kids and then we’ll have another problem with that.”
Some parents and even grandparent that attended who are raising their grandchildren wanted to know what was being done in school to keep their students safe. They were also curious to know if the local schools were teaching safety or addressing the problems associated with what has happened recently. Bullhead City Elementary School District superintendent Riley Frei told those in attendance that things have changed in the last five years. Teaching students how to keep from becoming a vehicle has shifted since the advent of the smart phone, social media and a general increased reliance on emerging technology.
“We’re dealing with a very different student now than we were five years ago,” he said. “Our children grow up where their major means of communication is not face-to-face.”
“In all circumstances, when children are comfortable talking to anybody and everybody that’s out there, we run a substantial risk,” he added.
The school district spends a lot of time directing its safety messages toward social media and ‘electronic citizenship.’
While child abuse and sexual abuse of minors have made headlines numerous times in recent months, most cases that involve the Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS-formerly Child Protective Services) are neglect, which is harder to identify. DCS assistant program manager Debra Walgren told those who want to do more in their community to spot problems that looking for neglect is not as easy as abuse.
Abuse cases, Walgren said, are easier to recognize because there are visible signs that can be identified. She said, sexual abuse cases come directly for the police department, which usually comes from an upset family member that discovers the situation. Neglect cases, however, the signs are more subtle.
“Emotional abuse—you can see it happening when parents belittle their children or are demeaning to their children,” Walgren said. “Neglect can come from substance abuse, inadequate shelter, or inadequate medical care.”
In many cases, DCS says it’s a combination of circumstances that draws their attention. She asked community members to be aware of their surroundings. Get to know your neighbors and don’t hesitate to report possible neglect cases.
While discussions about child safety took up a majority of the time Tuesday night, there was also substantial discussion about dealing with substance abuse and those that would harm children. Most of the panel of experts addressed the services available or the needs to help substance abusers get out of that lifestyle. However, Mohave County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Hildy Angius said, it was just as important to address what to do with those people who cannot be helped.
“What do we do with those that just cannot be helped?” she questioned. “No matter what we do, there will be a certain number that just will not stop. What then?”
Angius was disappointed that no one from the Mohave County Superior Court was in attendance. Understanding that there are Constitutional rights afforded to criminals, Angius said, the community still needs to address at what point they’ve had enough with a person who will not change.
Because police can only arrest offenders and document their cases and judges have very specific guidelines on sentencing convicted felons, there maybe little that can be done. Nonetheless, Angius feels the community needs to decide what they’re willing to accept and then strive to make the necessary changes to make it happen.
In the end, police chief Brian Williamson said, the most serious battle that the community fights is trying to convince its citizens to accept personal responsibility for their actions and their children. Help only goes as far as their willingness to accept responsibility. Making changes in lifestyle only goes as far as their willingness to accept personal responsibility. Educating their children is also another acceptance of personal responsibility, according to Williamson.