Policing the Police
One woman’s research could save generations of children from trauma.
At only 21 years old, Tiffany Hamidjaja is already making big waves. Huge waves, actually. Massive waves. Waves that could forever change the United States police force and save generations of children from behavioral issues, disassociation, and trauma. Hamidjaja is researching the ways in which police arrest parents in front of their children and making strides to have formal policies and practices put in place that state the proper way these arrests are handled in order to protect the child bystanders of these situations. Professionals are saying her research is the first of its kind, and after first hearing about it, I was hungry to hear more. Hamidjaja was at the top of my interview list.
We met at a coffee shop and she told me that she’d been working on this research for the past three years. It began with her involvement in the Multicultural Summer Research Opportunities Program at the University of Minnesota. She was told to pick any research project she wanted. She found that there was no research in regards to parental incarceration.
“We know so much about incarceration.” Says Hamidjaja. “Why is it that we don’t look at the one thing we can control? You can’t control their socioeconomic background, you can’t control the parent’s decision to commit a crime, you can’t control the communities they live in, but you can control whether a parent is arrested in front of the child or not. And when you think about that, there are so many other implications as well like ‘What are their relationships with police officers?’ ‘How do they perceive law enforcement in their life?’”
The research project picked up speed very quickly, Hamidjaja’s pilot study of only the Twin Cities area quickly grew to encompass the whole state of Minnesota. When asked how she conducted her study, Hamidjaja said the process had many layers and it took a lot of digging.
“There’s a kind of weird relationship between researchers and law enforcement officers.” Said the recent UMN grad. “Even if you explain ‘I just want to know the information you have, I’m not trying to tell you you’re wrong.’ It’s still difficult to get the information.”
But eventually she got it, and what she found was disturbing. She found that only a handful of police stations had formal policies in place for parental arrest. A small group had informal policies, meaning they had a parental arrest policy, but the policy was not actually written and therefore could not be held accountable. The vast majority of stations had no parental arrest policy in place whatsoever. In the cases of stations with no policy whatsoever, Hamidjaja found that there was little to no focus being paid to the officer’s effect on others but there was instead priority being given to the officer’s experience and “safety.”
"The only way to solve this systemic problem is to attack it from all sides. This is the one thing that we can change now."
On one phone call, Hamidjaja was told: “There hasn’t been a problem yet, so we don’t need to adopt any new policies.” Hamidjaja was clearly frustrated by this, stating: “If the idea is that 'nothing has gone wrong yet so, therefore, we don’t need proactive action,' that’s a problem. We’re talking about children’s lives. You won’t see the impact for years and years until it’s too late. And the reason behind incarceration research is to break the intergenerational cycle of incarceration, which requires us to do work now that we won’t see the results of until 30-40 years later when they have become adults.”
When asked what should be put in a new policy, Hamidjaja lights up. “It’s so easy!” She exclaims. “Things such as arresting the parent outside of the view of the child. Following up after the arrest to make sure that the child is protected and being looked after. Keeping teddy bears or fruit snacks in the back of the squad car. Training officers for developmentally appropriate language – the way you explain arrest to an eighteen-year-old is different from how you’d tell a four-year-old. Every arrest already requires an arrest checklist, so just adding a line that says 'Was a child present? Yes or No?' And if the answer is 'Yes' then filling out a few details, like how many? Was CPS involved? It’s so easy and we just need to have a paper trail so that cops can be held accountable and we can make sure that these children are taken care of.”
When asked what she hopes to do with the research now that they’ve finished data analysis, Hamidjaja says she’d like to publish a digestible and understandable infographic for the community. After that, she wants to start developing official parental arrest training that she can offer to police stations for free. “A lot of people said they would be willing to take training for it, they just didn’t know where the money would come from to pay for it.” Then she wants to take it to the legislative level so that formalized and consistent parental arrest policies are mandatory statewide, regionally, and eventually nationally.
Hamidjaja is fully aware that her research will affect children of color the most. According to the NAACP, African Americans and Hispanic people make up 58% of the United States' prisoners, even though they only make up one-quarter of the population. “It would be ignorant if race wasn’t a part of the conversation. One of the most crucial parts of an incarceration is the race of the incarcerated.” Says Hamidjaja. “The only way to solve this systemic problem is to attack it from all sides. This is the one thing that we can change now. A child is 6x more likely to be arrested if they viewed a parental arrest. If that’s the one thing we can control – why don’t we?”
"It would be ignorant if race wasn’t a part of the conversation."
When asked how she feels about being the first to pilot this research she said that she had mixed feelings. “I’m excited. It’s also scary. I’m constantly shooting in the dark. There’s no one who forged this path for me. It’s also hard to be proud because it’s 2017 and we are just now talking about this. It shouldn’t have taken this long.”
We completely agree. But we’re so happy to have Hamidjaja leading the way and fighting for the future of our children. If you have any questions or are interested in the work that Tiffany is doing, she’s more than willing to discuss her work further. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.