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Police allow children to handle guns at fair

A Santa Rosa police officer chats with youths at South Park Day and Night Festival last weekend (ATTILA NAGY)

By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Young children attending a festival in Santa Rosa’s South Park neighborhood Saturday were allowed to handle weapons used by the city’s SWAT team, causing some to question the appropriateness of such a display at a family event promoting safe communities.

Photos taken at the event show a Santa Rosa police officer talking with a group of youths as a young boy holds a fully-automatic assault rifle while looking through its sniper scope. Another shows a boy perhaps as young as 5 years old grabbing the grip of a riot gun on a table covered with gear beside the city’s SWAT command vehicle.

The images, which were circulated by email among a group of concerned citizens, were forwarded to Santa Rosa City Councilwoman Marsha Vas Dupre, who said she was “alarmed and devastated” by the display and questioned the judgment shown by police.

Attila Nagy, who snapped the photos and circulated them, said he’s in favor of community outreach by the police, but thinks they’d get a better response if they left their military-grade arsenal at home.

“What are young people learning from this?” Nagy asked. “No matter how you justify it, no matter how you twist it, it’s the promotion of violence.”

But police and event organizers defended the display as a successful community outreach effort that is in line with the department’s efforts to demystify law enforcement generally and its SWAT team in particular.

“We encourage our cops to get out of the car and interact with the community,” Police Chief Tom Schwedhelm said.

The South Park Day and Night Festival is put on by the Community Action Partnership of Sonoma County, a social service agency that works to improve the lives of low-income families. The South Park neighborhood adjacent to the Sonoma County Fairgrounds is one of the city’s poorest. The event in Martin Luther King Jr. Park, which is in its third year, included music, activities for kids, booths about health resources, and an evening movie.

The SWAT display included the SWAT command vehicle, several police officers with SWAT training, and a military-style personnel carrier the public was allowed to enter. Officers also had a police dog on hand.

The fully-automatic rifle is a variant of an M-16. The weapon on the table in the photo is called a sage gun that fires “less-than-lethal” rounds, Schwedhelm said. Both were unloaded. Other gear on display included a bulletproof shield, helmet, gas mask and pry bar.

The department has participated in the event for three years, and the community response has been positive, Schwedhelm said. One officer who patrols the area used the opportunity to play soccer with kids. Children and adults got to pet a police dog. And the SWAT display included the weapons they use.

“Whether you like it or not, our police have guns,” Schwedhelm said.

Elaine Holtz said she was shocked to see children encouraged to play with deadly weapons at the event.

Holtz is a member of the city’s Community Advisory Board who was staffing its booth when she wandered down to the SWAT area. At first she saw children playing in what she called the “tank” and didn’t have any problem with that.

“Then I turned around here’s this child holding a semi-automatic rifle,” Holtz said. “That’s when the grandmother and the mother in me really thought ‘Wait a minute.’”

Holtz said she asked the officer, Perry Plattus, what the goal of the display was, and he responded that it was for “gun control,” Holtz recalled.

But for young people already exposed to violent video games and gun violence in their own neighborhood, Holtz said she doesn’t see how letting children handle real-life weapons fosters gun control.

“Why even put that kind of fantasy into a young person’s mind?” she said.

Just like a K-9 demonstration showing the swift attack of a police dog can help educate people not to run from them, a display of SWAT firepower can have a way of teaching people that “this is not a weapon to be messed around with,” Schwedhelm said.

“Why do you think the police have weapons like this? It’s because that’s what’s needed to make the community safer,” he said.

The police presence was welcomed by residents, some of whom were concerned about attending an evening event in their park, said Oscar Chavez, executive director of Community Action Partnership.

“It was because they knew that there was going to be a strong police presence that we had such a good turnout,” Chavez said.





41 Responses to “Police allow children to handle guns at fair”

  1. BigDogatPlay says:

    @ Non violent… is there any particular reason, aside from an irrational fear of both police and firearms, that you keep posting unrelated factoids that are not on topic?

    Because there was one person ‘offended’ by the presence of unloaded firearms on display we keep being greeted by Non Violent and similar thinking posters who keep trying to throw poop at the wall hoping something will stick. What they are posting is not the norm of police conduct, but rather is the exception.

    The recent events in the UK and Norway show just how fallacious it is to have an unarmed law enforcement response in this day and age. While utopia would be a beautiful thing, in practice it would likely tip to anarchy in quick order as utopia is just not in the human psyche.

    In that respect it makes the point of the SWAT display all the more clear…. firearms are tools for a specific job. Like any tool they are extremely dangerous if mis-used. Taking the Hollywood out of firearms in the minds of young people, instilling a proper respect for the tool, and stressing safety are all good messages.

  2. Jean says:

    The police didn’t allow the kids to handle the guns, the adults with the kids gave permission

  3. Fiscal Conservative says:

    I see nothing wrong here. Magazine removed,bolt open and SWAT supervision.

    A+ for SRPD interacting with our community.

  4. Brian says:

    In support of the police officers allowing children to handle guns I have to say that I was one of those children 42 years ago. At age eight my father sent me to officers field day, where we learned gun safety and even were allowed to shoot under the officers supervision. Because of officers like these, I went on to pass hunters safety and stayed safe and alive. It is better to educate children than to think they will never encounter a firearm. Those swat officers are some of the finest officers that we have and the children being able to bond with them and feel positive about police officers while learning gun safety get many cheer from myself and a pat on the back for Police Chief Tom Schwedhelm for sending them to the festival.

    B Johnson

  5. Just Me says:

    Just remember, when seconds count…Law Enforcment is only minutes away.

    How will YOU handle the situation?

  6. JohnSoCo says:

    Non Violent – sounds like you should move to another country where you don’t have to worry about guns or cops. Mexico maybe? oh wait, its mostly (unarmed because they cant own guns) citizens and cops being killed. England then! Nope, if you actually read past the gun hater hype you would realize England has a worse violent crime rate than the US, just not guns. On a more serious note, try getting your head out of the sand and get in touch with reality instead of ‘oh let’s all get along” fantasy-land.

  7. freethinker says:

    Im pretty sure the folks crying over children handling weapons are the same ones who advocate their utopian-fantasy-abstinence-only sex education.

    People are curious by nature and by repressing them of curiosity and putting age limits on things that really do not need one does not prevent young people from acting. Our country has so many restrictions, yet we lead the world most of the time in murders, “non-moral” acts, and incarcerations. Im not saying to change society and let the criminals run amok, but I do know that with the way our current system is designed, there are flaws and it’s a show of how the average citizen has little protection or little recourse for the less obscene crimes.

    We don’t mind sending off our young ones off to die in wars, but we limit them to what they can do as living citizens here. You all very well know that if our kids want to do something that badly, they will do it without our approval.

    This is probably one of the more respectable and admirable things that Olivares has done while in office. His reasoning is legitimate and sound, after all, a cop has to go though basic training and therefore, should know what is the best way to handle a gun espcially when you have to bring it home and you know your kids are going to ask you questions about it.

    It’s tied to the forbidden fruit syndrome. If we simply not make such a huge deal of these things (sex, guns, etc) and simply give sound education and advice on the matter, you won’t see as much defiance. Just remember that its all in how you hype things up. As soon as you present something extraordinary and unknown to a child, they are going to want to know EVERYTHING about it. I mean, is that now what we teach our children to do? To ask questions, so that they can expand their knowledge. So that they grow up as conscious individuals and know how to seek facts? Yet, by our own actions, we are basically telling them “Shut up, you are asking to many questions.This is not for you.” And you wonder why your children ignore you while at the same time scratching your head over the concept of “reverse psychology” for example.

    As my own parents became more open minded and focused on EDUCATING me rather than using centuries-old SCARE TACTICS, I respected them more and took more time to actually think out my choices and the possible consequences that follow.

    Stop treating your children like some dumb pet monkey that is only wanting to pull the trigger. Be a true parent and GUIDE, not a DISGUISE.

  8. Rick says:

    I posted this same response on a similar article. I hope I am not violating posting etiquette by copying it here. The info seemed appropriate..

    I have seen many interesting comments here. Some think it was great, some think it was horrible. I think the opinions follow each persons experience. Some say it is a political demonstration of the only future available to a certain demographic in a geographical area. I saw that movie. I saw the word “Assault rifle” thrown around like it was an evil demon bent on destroying all who touch it.
    Was it firearms education? Some say yes and some say no. Some say, where are the experts on the subject, what do they say? Well, it wouldn’t matter. Those who have made up their minds won’t be swayed by an expert. That being said, I am and expert. I am a certified, card carrying instructor at the local, state and national level. Including Range safety, handguns, rifles, shotguns, competition shooting and all black powder guns. I teach over 2 dozen courses a year and coordinate and plan many more. This display by SRPD was fine. There were handling the guns with direct supervision. I am assuming they were told how to hold the gun since hewas holding it fine. I would call that instruction “education”. They took advantage of a teachable moment. It works. Parental permission? Sounds like some people there posted here that the children were asking permssion. One person seemed upset the kids were “enjoying” the guns. I should hope so. No one should be forced to participate if they were not going to have fun. I teach kids to shoot. They are the majority of my participants. Some come out as families and they all learn the same thing at the same time. Age is up to the parents. Some people who own guns want their youngest children to be exposed to them in a controlled environment to elimiate the mystery. They are not mysterious living things, they are mechanical devices. As for the gun violence in America, a country I am proud to have served and live in, no child who has ever gone through an organized youth shooting sports program has EVER been a mass murder shooter in this country. EVER. They learned early on that guns were tools to be respected and used, not worshiped. Kids in competitive shooting, 9 year old minimum in some programs, not mine, learn mental discipline and self control. These tpes of events are invaluable. Yes, we have more gun crimes than the UK, but they have 4 times the violent crime rate of the USA. Thank goodness those people in the UK don’t have guns, there would be few left standing. God bless America.

  9. Non Violent says:

    Oh, oh.

    ANOTHER headline shows the risk of trusting someone simply due to his occupation as a police officer. Imagine if you were a African American and you sought help from the following police chief in the Bay Area. Do you think he would have helped you or harmed you by ignoring your pleas??
    —————–

    Schools police chief retires amid racial slur probe
    August 17, 2011

    The embattled police chief of the Oakland Unified School District announced his retirement Wednesday amid an investigation surrounding a complaint that he allegedly used racial slurs against a black officer.

    ———–
    Another example from today’s news. Another example of why you don’t want police officers brainwashing young kids with twisted thoughts.

  10. Heather says:

    Non violent, why do you dislike law enforcement so much, they risk their lives to protect people like you and I from the criminals. In 39 years I have never had a problem with a cop. Granted like in any organization you will have a bad apple here or there but for the most part they are great people doing a great service for their community.

    Why wouldn’t we want our children exposed to them and the profession. Lets home some of them do decide to be cops when they grow up and not dope smoking hippies or little gang bangers.

  11. Rick says:

    I am not a prejudice person. I do not judge a profession by the actions of a few in it. In 2007 there were 3700 public school teachers arrested for sexual assault of students at schools. What does this say? Not much about the millions who did not. What do those articles say about peace officer? Nothing about those who did not break the law. With 700,000 peace officers nationwide, if 700 commit a crime, that is still 1 in a thousand. Pretty good ratio.

    I would not prejudge anyone based on the news or any other source, other than my interaction with that person.

  12. Non Violent says:

    This discussion got me wondering about the most current example of why we risk our safety in trusting someone simply because he is a police officer.

    Take note of this Southern California Police Officer who is currently being prosecuted after being caught in Mexico and being charged with participation in mass murder down there. Yep.
    ——————–
    Friday, 22 April 2011 15:38

    San Fernando, CA: California Police Officer arrested in connection with Massacre of 145 People

    A San Fernando, CA, police officer found himself on the other side of the law.

    Mexican authorities have arrested officer Joel Resendiz-Moreno for allegedly participating in the kidnapping and murder of 145 bus passengers.

    ——————–

    Yep. A mass murderer who was an active duty police officer in Southern California. And look at the date of the news item. Just last April.

  13. Non Violent says:

    I think I may have forgotten to mention the off duty Orange County, CA, deputy and his off duty CA Correction Officer buddy who are currently under prosecution in Southern California for abducting a young female from a shopping mall in broad daylight and attempting to rape her before she escaped.

    I also may have forgotten to mention the San Diego cop who is currently under prosecution in San Diego County, CA, for rape while he was even in uniform.

    How about the active duty Los Angeles Police Department cop who was recently arrested and under prosecution for a cold case murder of about 20 years ago?

    Did I forget to mention those cases ?

    I apologize.

    People who worship the badge are idol worshipers and not much more. Giving my posts a ‘thumbs down’ reflects the lack of maturity that many cops and retired cops live with.

    Worshiping guns and attempting to brainwash children into worshiping guns and badges is simply bad for the children’s lives.

    My advice to the County elected officials of Sonoma County is to prohibit this stupidity by your local police in the future. It has zero to do with “outreach” to the community and everything to do with brainwashing young minds.

  14. BigDogatPlay says:

    @ Non Violent…

    The law enforcement officers active, former and retired are overwhelmingly a majority who do it right day in and day out with little or no fanfare. A very small minority of officers are the ones who are wrong, and that you clearly seem to have an issue with. Speaking from my own experience in the business they generally get found out and get dealt with appropriately. Pretty much like every other business or profession… the wrong guys eventually show themselves and get dealt with.

    99% of the rest of society, which your comments seem to be reflecting, only see LEOs when they have done something wrong and it’s in the press or when a LEO has an enforcement contact with them personally. But since that is 100% of their interaction it becomes an easy stretch to see why so many will jump to a conclusion.

    This link is a lot more of what cops are really about. Remember it the next time you feel like dumping on them.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/44167629#44167629

  15. Non Violent says:

    To Frank Hillis:

    Aside from the fact that you posted under several fake names to make your opinion seem more common than it really is, I have this to say to your comment.

    You stated, “maybe a few will want to be cops instead of drug dealing, tax stealing losers.”

    So, maybe a few will turn out to be like the Contra Costa cops who are under prosecution right now for stealing drugs seized during arrests and selling those drugs back into the community?

    Maybe a few will be like the Sonoma County cop who was recently convicted of multiple bank robberies ?

    Maybe a few will be like the Sacramento cop convicted of murder ?

    Yeah. We want our kids to be like your heros.

  16. Rick says:

    Nothing in peaceful preaching will change the fact that a child who was never allowed to learn firearms safety is in mortal danger the moment they find a gun in a neighbors house. You don’t know it your neighbors have guns. I they know you don’t like guns, they won’t tell you about theirs. People shouldn’t place their childrens lives on the line with good intentions. Do you realy trust your neighbor to store their guns responsibly? If they happen to find a disgarded gang members gun will they know what to do? Or will they become a statistic.? Nothing I write is about gun worshiping, just safety…

  17. Jay says:

    I highly doubt the concerned grandmothers of the world would have an issue if this were a Fountaingrove street fair.

  18. Frank Hillis says:

    @Non Violent

    Maybe it is brainwashing or maybe it’s called reaching out like everyone says the cops should do. But if it is, it’s better than the government owes me something because I’m (insert perceived slight here). Or the everyone in my “hood” wears blue so I should too. Or the though I pay no taxes I should get a “rebate” brainwashing they get now. To you the cops could do nothing right. They talk to kids they are brainwashing. They don’t and they are detached from their comminity. Just admit you are a cop hater and move on. As for the show and tell, big deal maybe a few will want to be cops instead of drug dealing, tax stealing losers.

  19. Peckawood says:

    Who cares? They’ve been doing this for years. I went to one of these, oohed and ahhed over the guns, and I turned out to be a peaceful person. Guns exist and it’s better if kids know what the hell is going on rather than shielding them from the truth. The world can be a violent place, especially if there is a question of who’s in charge.

  20. Non Violent says:

    Stupid people worship guns. They attempt to feel better about their own miserable lives by drawing upon an inanimate object.

  21. Non Violent says:

    When I recently saw police handing out hard candy to children at the 4th of July parade, I knew right then to call it what it was.

    BRAINWASHING.

    Both the viewer next to me and I agreed that the police were merely brainwashing the children into falsely thinking that anyone with a badge was trustworthy when we all know that isn’t true.

    Police are merely bullies who discovered that they could actually get paid to be bullies. And we as a community allow them to brainwash our children into thinking automatic weapons are something to admire?

    And, of course, our political leadership in Sonoma County says nothing.

  22. Heather says:

    Hey maybe some of the kids actually left the event thinking cops and law enforcement are cool. Maybe we planted the seed for a few future cops rather than a few future dirt bags and gang members. This is a great thing and this type of interaction should be encouraged. Great job SRPD.

  23. BigDogatPlay says:

    Thank you SRPD and Chief Schwedhelm for advancing the message that firearms are tools for a specific job, and that just like any other tool they must be handled safely.

    Perhaps we could get the Eddie Eagle program into our elementary schools to teach kids what to do when they find a gun…. don’t touch, leave the area, tell an adult. http://www.nrahq.org/safety/eddie/

    Oh but since it’s the NRA that is spreading that important safety message, we couldn’t possibly have that in our schools, could we.

  24. Joseph DeProspero says:

    Guns are NOT weapons…People are. Its no wonder people wind up in prison & not guns. Teach them safety and responsibility and they have that to practice. They are going to learn about guns no matter what from TV and movies, even the other neighborhood kids. What neighborhood are you from?

    I saw this news report & immediately came on here to comment. Very happy to come on here & find people with common sense.

    “STOP CRYING” your the ignorance being talked about.
    PRO GUN…PRO GUN SAFETY

  25. Joseph O says:

    To Chief Schwedhelm. I applaud your departments’ efforts educating our youth. This is a good start…but let’s not drop the ball. I suggest that next time partner with the other SoCo departments and host a youth day at the SRJC training center in Windsor so the youth can experience live fire in a “Safe” environment. I beleive with the right education and training, our youth will be much safer. I also believe over time fatality rates and gang acitivity would decrease. Great job, Chief!

    To the Parents. Lead by example. Have a positive outlook and attitude toward our law enforcement officers and what they do for us and our “rights.” Be a positive role model and do the right things. Store firearms in a safe manner. If you don’t understand something about firearms, take a basic class to educate youselves.

  26. Rick says:

    People think ignorance is bliss. No, it is ignorance. Where guns are concerned, a little safety goes a long way. A minute before I read the article, I was literally sorting pictures of kids shooting guns from a recent youth shoot activity I supervised. A dozen kids practicing, shooting and working towards marksmanship awards. Their safety was great. They have had training and respect what firearms can do. I, of course, thought the SWAT display and demo was great. As for the picture, no one knows what the kid is pointing at so they make assumptions. Don’t assume a gun is unloaded until you are sure and don’t assume a situation is unsafe until you know for sure. There are organizations who offer firearm safety training for kids. Here is my soap box speech. There are guns in 70% of homes in America. Consider where your children play. Who’s house do they play in? Do your neighbors own guns? How are they stored? Does your child know what to do if they find a gun? Ignorance is very dangerous when it comes to firearms. Check with your local gun ranges. The Arroyo Gun Club, The Sonoma County Shooting Association and so forth. I the region, The Konocti Rod and Gun Club, KRGC.org, in Lakeport has many safe, family oriented shooting activities. They host a Free Family Fun Shoot every May where they invite the general public out for a day of shooting fun. One on one coaching and safety training. Home firearms storage and free gun locks. Don’t condemn the exposure of kids to guns, expand on it. Now is the time to get your children educated about firearms safety.

  27. Skippy says:

    Excellent!
    Anything that acts as a counter force to the institutional castration currently practiced on young folks by publicly funded schools, Big Govt., Hollywood, etc. should be expanded.
    Guns are good.
    They keep the nice folks safe from the bad folks.
    Those opposed to this type of useful educational exercise should be honest enough to post very large “No guns in this house” signs in their yard.
    That way the criminals and assorted scum will know which houses to rob.
    We wouldn’t want the poor dears to get shot by some bitter clinger.

  28. Jimmy D says:

    I’m hoping there was a little gun safety education that the kids aren’t getting from la familia. Really this is news?

  29. Dan Delgado says:

    What was it Valerie Brown said last week…? Oh yea, just ignore the 30% naysayers. Police use guns. That’s a fact. We all know it and kids are curious about it. Why not let them handle an unarmed weapon and dispel some of the mystery? Valerie’s right on this one.

  30. J.R. Wirth says:

    If you’re bothered by this you’re part of the problem.

  31. Pearl Alquileres says:

    Teaching kids about guns is how you protect them from accidentally shooting themselves or someone else when you’re not around.
    Or… you can just “hope” we “change” the laws to ban guns so the GOVERNMENT can protect them.

  32. Touch says:

    It’s not promoting violence, cops are doing the right thing for a community that’s poor.
    To a kid, it’s a positive learning experience especially from a police officer, at least it’s not from their gang member family that their learning from.

  33. Stop Crying says:

    This shows how out of touch SRPD is with community policing. Hey knock knock, officers, are you there? There is no logical reason to bring weapons out of the holsters, cars, armory. There plenty of other things, “toys” to show the kids for show-and-tell than a machine gun that is designed to kill people- and then let them handle it. Rather than defend the poor judgement, just admit it was a poor decision and learn from it. Defending this, which is impossible to do with a straight face, just makes you look worse- and nobody will trust you. Admit it- you screwed up!

  34. Pro Gun....Pro Gun Safety says:

    Anyone who has ever been on the range at a police academy understands that you don’t point a weapon, which is always presumed to be loaded whether it is or not, down range unless no one is beyond your 3 or 9 position. This kid is pointing at, what???, the officer has no idea since he is looking in the other direction. The kid could easily have been scoping someone down range. Horrible gun safety by the officer involved, and a CYA reaction from Tom.

  35. Just Me says:

    By the way SRPD – THANK YOU for taking a step towards educating the public! I think it’s time our City Council all takes a gun safety class and gets educated before they engage their mouths!

  36. Just Me says:

    How is teaching them gun safety any different than teaching them not to put their hands on the stove burner or how to use a table knife?

    A gun is a tool, just like your kitchen knife, just like the hammer, the screw driver, the lawn mower, the chain saw, etc… For goodness sake! TEACH them to respect the tool and how to properly use it!!!

    Take the mystery out of it so if they ever do “find” a gun laying around or have a friend who says “guess what my dad has in the nightstand”, they will know to respect it and leave it alone!

    Those young boys just may very well decide to become our police officers in the future. Teach them well, show them right from wrong.

    Your liberal ignorance is what is ruining our Country. Stop burying your head in the sand and thinking if I ignore this or outlaw this it will go away. Guess what…the bad criminals will still have them and still do bad things. All you accomplish is making EVERYONE a victim!

  37. Wayne LaPierre says:

    I’d rather have my kids handle some good old American steel under the close supervision of a trained SWAT professional than read the reckless reporting of McCallum and company.

  38. Chris says:

    In later news scientists have found a variant of thin skin, call nano skin, it is rumored to be 9x more likely rash and irritate than typical thin skinned variants.

  39. Tom Sullivan says:

    Maybe a more suitable quote would’ve been “this gives residents of this neighborhood a chance to see the other end of these tools.” and to SRPD, thanks for being sheepdogs, no matter how much the sheep cry, some of us still appreciate what you do. And to the rest of you “baaaaaaaaa”

  40. Terry says:

    I bet most of those kids already have had contact with guns…and they were probably loaded. Where as the police guns were NOT loaded.
    I say this because wasn’t this ‘fair’ held in a high gang area?? Most probably have older brothers that are in gangs.

  41. Fred says:

    Big deal….