Anonymity and safety are two principles that will make police work with children more productive and not traumatic for minorsChildren, who have come to the point where they are ready to break the law, have become witnesses or victims of crimes, are very vulnerable. They require a special approach, attention and conditions in which they can trust adults. They created spaces that allow minors to open their hearts to psychologists and inspectors of juvenile prevention with the least trauma for the psyche in the Central Police Department and in all departments of Mariupol and Manhush raion.
Presumption of fear
“Why did you lie? You recognized him!” shouted a heavily built man, bending over a little boy. His face was bloodshot, his fists clenched and unclenched. And the boy cringed and trembled, quiet tears flowed down his cheeks. Hardly heard, he answered: “Dad, I was scared that he would find me and punish me again.”
This story happened in my journalistic practice many years ago but was clearly imprinted in my memory. Father and son just left the interrogation room, where the boy was supposed to identify the offender, a recidivist took away phones from children in the street. The operatives quickly detained him. Victims with parents were called for identification. It took place in a small room in which three working tables could hardly fit. Police officers sat at them back then being engaged in their own business. Several people with a criminal among them lined up at the entrance along the wall. And the investigator, who was in charge of the case, called the victims one by one. A victim and the offender stood at a distance of less than a meter from each other. And many children, like that boy, decided not to recognize him. They were afraid that the villain would remember them and find when they let him go.
For a long time, the identification by witnesses of criminals was conducted in this way. Many police departments have no investigation rooms as those in detective films: with protective darkened glass to ensure the anonymity of the identifier; there are no children’s rooms in which a child in an informal setting could trust a psychologist or inspector of juvenile police. But due to the fact that the implementation of the Safe City strategy adopted by the Mariupol City Council is steadily advancing, a number of programs are being implemented in the district departments allowing to secure the investigation process for witnesses and victims.
Child-Friendly Police is one of these programs, which provided for the creation of ten safe spaces at the police departments, taking into account the freedoms and rights of a child. Five rooms of investigative actions and the so-called green rooms each.
“Green rooms are new methods of work according to European standards in cases of dealing with the children who have problems with the law, who have become victims or witnesses of a crime,” shared captain Kateryna Shnaider, Head of Juvenile Prevention Unit of the Preventive Division of the Main Directorate of the National Police in Donetsk Oblast. “Rooms are not so called by the colour of the walls, although it corresponds to the name at the Central Police Department, but according to their purpose. They provide for dealing with a child in a friendly and safe environment.”
The initiator of the Child-Friendly Police Project and the creation of green and investigation rooms at the Central Department, Kalmius, Livoberezhnyi, Prymorskyi and Manhush raion police departments was the Mariupol Development Fund in partnership with the Main Directorate of the National Police in Donetsk Oblast and Mariupol City Council with the assistance of the EU Support to the east of Ukraine – Recovery, Peacebuilding and Governance UN Development Programme.
“Eight spaces were created in Mariupol and two in Manhush,” said Andrii Altunian, Project Coordinator of the Mariupol Development Fund, on Friday, 15 May, at a presentation of the program’s results. “In addition, the police were instructed on using methods of work in the green and investigation rooms with children witnesses of a crime, injured or those in conflict with the law. More than 50 police officers took part in the project.”
Approximate cost is UAH 2 million. It consisted of two components: repair and improvement of spaces and training programs.
“We worked in a room for the first time the day before yesterday. We were approached for help by a woman suspecting her ex-husband of sexual harassment of their common child,” said Kateryna Shnaider. “For sure, such a space makes the work process easier! For example, previously, an investigator brought a victim to his office together with a psychologist, and it is difficult for a child to talk about such things with strangers, it intensifies his psychological trauma. It so happened that a second interrogation was necessary.
But the specificity of children’s memory is that they speak the truth shortly after an incident, and they may lie after that. Their psyche is trying to help survive what has happened to them and erase the negative segments in their memory. The green room is convenient in terms of the fact that there are no investigators or other people distracting. A psychologist communicates with a child in an informal setting. And the child can relax. He can draw what has happened to him, show on the anatomical dolls which we also have.”
The police captain said that the green room had a camera that transmits the conversation to a laptop installed in the office of juvenile prevention inspectors. At this time, the inspector and investigator are in the office observing the communication. If there are questions, they address them to the psychologist through the Bluetooth headset so that the child does not hear, and the professional uses leading questions so that the interlocutor provides the necessary information. At the same time, a second interrogation is not needed. The conversation record can already be used in court.
Unfortunately, the Juvenile Prevention Department does not employ full-time psychologists. Colleagues from the service for children’s affairs, from the field of education and the center for psychological assistance come to the rescue.
The same anonymity is also ensured in the investigation room. It is divided by a one-way mirror, which is glass that looks like a mirror on one side. Police Lieutenant Colonel Serhii Bychin, Head of the Central Police Department of the Main Directorate of the National Police in Donetsk Oblast, specified that it could be used for confidential communication of the person under investigation with a lawyer and to identify the offender, while maintaining the anonymity of the identifier.
“The project is very important for the community,” confidently said Hryhorii Berezun, Head of Security and Anti-Corruption Department of Mariupol City Council. That is why it is supported not only by international partners and the Mariupol Development Fund but also by Vadym Boichenko, Mayor, and the city council, since it directly depends on ensuring the rights and freedoms of our residents, especially children.”
Colonel Mykola Kashchuk, Acting Deputy Head of the Main Directorate of the National Police in Donetsk Oblast, thanked the partners for the implementation of the program and emphasized, “Children suffer from domestic violence, become witnesses and victims of crimes. Unfortunately, and they become participants too. We created such rooms to protect them. We must take care of the children.”
Author: Olena Medvedieva