Prompted by recent events in metro Atlanta, such as the death of toddler Cooper Harris after being left in his father's car, the Conyers Police Department is revising its policy on calls regarding children left unattended in vehicles to remove any ambiguity in an officer's response.
All calls of children left unattended in vehicles in the city limits of Conyers will now be designated as requiring an emergency response, allowing for the use of blue lights, sirens and emergency medical response.
"This is a dangerous, and too often deadly, practice that seems to be on the rise," said CPD Chief Gene Wilson. "We have to take all precautions and actions to circumvent this practice and the negligent actions of parents and care-givers. We are responsible for serving and protecting the community. We have to act and respond in an effort to save the lives of innocent victims."
Wilson said, "I hope and pray that we don't receive any of these types of calls, but we plan to be prepared if we do."
With recent events, Wilson had requested a review of the department's policy. That review found the policy didn't clarify what response officers should take and had left it to the officers' discretion.
Now, said CPD Capt. Jack Dunn, "We revised a policy that classifies a child left in a vehicle unattended, when the temperature is 80 degrees or greater, as an emergency. The officer can respond with blue lights and emergency medical response."
According to the Weather Channel, in 90 degree heat, within just 10 minutes, the air inside an enclosed car can rise to 109 degrees.
Adults driving the car with air conditioning on may not realize how quickly things can heat up when they park and try and run into a building for a quick errand or to pick something up, Dunn said.
"When you pull up the car is comfortable. But you don't realize that 10 minutes can be critical."
Conyers Police received about 40 calls within the last year for checks on children left unattended in vehicles, said Dunn. The results have ranged from arrests to referrals to the Department of Family and Children's Services to admonishments.
About the same number of calls have been received for pets left in hot cars.
Sometimes an officer will respond to a situation and discover it's not as bad as it might initially seem. But having an emergency response can still bring needed resources.
"It's not uncommon for a parent to be gathering stuff to go into the store and the child hits the lock. It's not negligent, it's an accident," said Dunn. "Now that we've looked into it, we know. But those 10 minutes are (still) critical."