Friday, June 21, 2013

STRANGER DANGER - the unfortunate series of events

There has been a lot of stress around the village over the past few weeks. Unfortunately there are lots of versions of the truth.  this is mine:

3 Fridays ago my child and two friends (aged between 10 and 12) were dispatched to the next street (about 200 metres away) to collect my other child (7) from a play date. It was 5 pm and still light.  They returned within about 30 minutes and reported being followed by a man who kept going down driveways each time they turned around.  One of the girls vaguely recognised him and even said hello at one point but stopped this when the others said they didn't know him.  they stayed in a group, came straight home and told me what happened, where he had been and so on, in quite good detail.  They each gave an independent description of the man, all matched.  They described him well and included the idea that he looked ''like he should be an adult but kind of looked like a kid''.  At the time I remained calm, thinking it was probably some poor old soul walking his dog who was freaked out by kids thinking they were being followed. I let the parents of the other two know, and these two had also mentioned it, without stress, to their mothers.

After consideration (it was a long weekend) I rang the school on the Tuesday morning and spoke to the Principal - just in case someone else had also reported this, and she urged me to phone the Police, which I did.  I had a long conversation with the Constable during which time he told me that he recognised the description, that they were aware of this person, that he was considered a nuisance but not dangerous, he indicated the area the man lived in, and told me to be ''aware''. It was a conversation by phone and i did not make a written complaint however it was lengthy and detailed.  I suggested we hold a Neighbourhood support meeting which he strongly agreed was a good idea, and that this issue could be discussed on the night.

Meeting was duly called and although in the ensuing few days the story got rather contorted, the facts remained largely the same, and as a result more than 50 people came to the meeting.

To my absolute astonishment, the same constable , whilst addressing the fact that there had been an ''alleged'' following, announced that there was no description offered, no times, no details and Police were confident that there was no one in the village who was of concern.  (weird incident one)  People were confused but relatively satisfied that everything was hunky dory.  At the end of the meeting I told the group it had been my child followed and that I had spoken at length to the Constable and hence the calling of the meeting. I also asked for him to give a definitive guide to what people should be doing if there was any other incident.  Of course, he urged people to contact Police.

the next day (Saturday) a parent posted a description on Facebook.  It didn't match the description of the person followed by my kids which now meant, we believed, we had TWO people in the village.  I posted the description on our community Facebook page but took it down at the request of the person who had it - we needed to make sure the school knew everything and we didn't want to cause undue stress.  In the meantime 5000 people had read the post and the page was busy with people talking about this.

there was a very broad overview of the two incidents including the fact that accordingly to police the descriptions didn't match (what? how could this be? the police told the community they didn't HAVE a description - weird incident four) but included this:

 • Children walking or biking to and from school should stay together and use the roads that MOST people use
• If approached, politely say NO, turn and walk fast to the nearest shop, house, or home if it is close by and tell them, what has happened. If with friends, always stay together.
• Always tell your parents or an adult if you are approached by a stranger and they will ring 111 
• Adults if you see children in the village being spoken to by an adult, ask if the child is OK and check that they know the adult, if you have cause for concern. Be a busy body, that’s what neighbourhood watch is about.

Well blow me down if not the very next day we DID have an incident in the village where (we are told) a man attempted to coax a boy into a car outside the school.  Again, speculation was rife and people panicked.  The next night a group of parents met at my house and we talked about what we could do - it was another long weekend so in light of this, how could we keep our children safe until school time again. Overall there was a frustration at the small amount of information we had - we still don't know why this was but can assume it was because both school and police needed to have exact facts before sending anything home.  (weird incident two)  We agreed we needed to wait for the school to produce some facts, but that in the meantime we needed to remain extra vigilant.  There were some ideas on what the vehicle was like although this was unsubstantiated.  There were also a couple of other people who told of stories of their child being followed by what appeared to be the same described vehicle. These people were also encouraged to talk to the police.

Monday just gone I had a conversation with the school Principal.  She was extremely concerned that I had added fuel to the fire of this and needed to assure me the police was involved.  It was a heated discussion.  I could certainly understand her concerns and she was getting it both barrels however my intention in publishing what I knew was to STOP speculation not grow it.  She was unaware that I had provided a description of the first man to police or of what the Police had said at the Support meeting (weird incident three).  That same day the police came to school (it turns out that they had been patrolling since the previous Friday although we didn't know this then) and talked to the children in general terms about stranger danger.  The same information was put in a notice to go home to parents (my child didn't think this was important and so I only got the notice yesterday - shows what kids take in!)

Yesterday I spoke with the person who had provided the description of the man in the car.  This description was given to her BY THE POLICE.  They say it wasn't to be shared and the local guy didn't know it had been (weird incident five).

There are a number of other anomalies in this story.  A school in another nearby town has had similar incidents. I found out about this through a friend but other schools have not been told.  A friend in the Police who lives locally also was not told about it.  The information shared by me on the Facebook page reached 5000 people - that tells me 5000 people got the exact same story - so how come all the Chinese whispers?  Why is it not okay to scare kids but its OK to play down something like this?
Overall it has left me with a very bad taste, and I am extremely uncomfortable about letting my children walk around town. 

Please note - this is MY version of events.  Your comments are welcome.

Friday, June 07, 2013

We could get a grant for that

I am involved with a number of not for profit organisations, that like most of them in this country, are heavily reliant on the good will of hardworking committee members to get their work done.

Money is always tight, and it rare to get through a meeting without someone suggesting we ''get a grant'' to help cover the costs of a particular project.
what a wonderful idea - fancy that there would be so many philanthropic organisations or there prepared to give money for the good of the community!

Yes, it true, that there are a few of these amazing groups, mainly attached to large corporates, who generously give money for the betterment of our small towns and communities.  But don't be under any illusions.  By far and way, the most generous of these, and the most common, are those that ''redistribute'' money from gaming machines.

Just this week I spoke to a trustee of a gaming machine proceeds Trust who mentioned that in the town he looks after (population 15000) the take each week of LOSSES in machines is $60,000.  Multiply that across the whole of NZ and it is a mind boggling amount of money that is disappearing out of circulation into those horrible shiny machines, and being ''given back'' by way of grants and donations.

So that's good right? At least the money is being returned to the community and not held in the pockets and profits of the businesses who house these thieving things?  The trusts are run by responsible people who ensure that the money goes to worthy projects that benefit their local communities right?  If it wasn't for these machines we wouldn't have restored buildings, lovely parks for our kids to play in, secretaries of NFPs being paid, community centres, and reading/cooking/life skill programmes for the disadvantaged right?

Well, may be not, but but we'd also have, in my community alone, an extra
sixty thousand dollars a week in our economy.  And I would argue that those people feeding slot machines, and losing, are funding projects that are by and large nice to haves not need to haves.  Especially when compared to the social cost gaming machines are having in the first instance.  Add to that the irony that those who are losing the most are getting a portion back by way of a cooking lesson or food parcel, and it seems to be an immoral industry all round.

Think carefully next time you suggest to your committee that you ''get a grant''.  Think about who is actually funding your project.

Then decide which focus of social betterment is more palatable.