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The face of a stranger, our KFOX14 experiment
By: Stacey Welsh
EL PASO, Texas -- Stranger danger. It's usually a talk parents have with their kids about safety, but it's also a phrase the El Paso Police Department said it is trying to get rid of.
Officer Slade Davis said it is important for kids to know the difference between "good" strangers and "bad" strangers. "All of a sudden, we're the bad stranger; us, security, anyone in uniform, in their eyes, as young as they are, they don't recognize us as being here to help. Firemen are here to help. Police men are here to help. Sheriff's officers are here to help," Davis said.
Davis speaks to schools and community groups about child safety. He said he tries to speak to as many groups as possible.
KFOX14 decided to find out what the face of a stranger really looks like, after reporting on incidents where a suspicious blue van approached kids. That happened twice this year, in east and northeast El Paso neighborhoods.
"When you're walking down the street, and you see this blue van coming down real slow and it parks next to the curb, then it parks next to the other curb ... To me, if you think it's suspicious, it probably is. Act on it," Davis said.
KFOX14 employees volunteered their kids for our experiment, where we wanted to see if kids would leave a local park with someone they don't know.
First, our assignment manager, Tony Rodriguez, approached a group of kids at a playground asking them to help find a dog.
Davis said that, in itself, is a big red flag. "If an adult needs to come to a child to ask for help, there's something wrong. An adult needs to go to an adult to ask for help," Davis said.
The kids started to follow Tony, but then shouted out to their parents asking permission before actually leaving the playground.
I tried the experiment with a second group of kids, to see if they would react differently to a woman. I also asked them if they would help me find a dog. Tony and I both showed them pictures of a dog, claiming that was the lost dog.
The kids also would not leave the playground when I asked them, saying their parents would not want them to.
"I thought you were like a kidnapper trying to kidnap us, so I said come on guys, we've got to get out of here. They might kidnap us, or maybe they're pretending to have a puppy," 8-year-old Jacob said.
Both groups of kids also made up a story that they saw a dog somewhere else in the park to get the potentially dangerous adults to leave.
The kids in the experiment tell KFOX14 a stranger could be anyone. "He could look like someone that you know. You just have to like ask them a few questions and see if they actually are," 8-year-old Arielle said.
"Know your parents' names, their full names. Know your parents' phone number, the whole number. Know your address. You don't have to give this to all the bad guys," Davis said.
"My dad gave us a code if someone's going to pick us up. We have to tell them a code," 11-year-old Isaac said.
Officer Davis said kids can look for a place with the safe interlocking hands symbol if they are lost. Those can be found at some homes, schools, public libraries, public recreation centers, police stations and fire stations.
Davis also advises parents to point out kidnappings in the news to make sure kids know it really happens.
"I wanted to see what they would do," Isaac and Jacob's mom Ysenia said of the experiment. "We always talk about an adult, but what does that mean. Even with you, even with Tony they still reacted the same way. I was glad to see that they saw anybody that they didn't know as a stranger," Valencia said.