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BURBANK : Teddy Bears Help Police Calm Children

March 26, 1994|ED BOND

A teddy bear can soothe many fears and speak many languages.

"Children need to hold onto something to make them feel safe and secure," said Burbank Police Sgt. Bob Brode, who keeps a box full of teddy bears tucked away in a corner of the juvenile division.

Brode pulls one out when a small child who must be interviewed comes in after being abused, witnessing a crime or having some other frightening experience.

The child may not speak English, but police often connect with the child because of the bear, Brode said.

"It doesn't take away the pain, but it does help them to refocus on themselves," he said. "It shows them that we are not always the bad guys."

About six or seven bears are given to children each month, Brode said. They are donated by civic organizations--such as the Burbank Emblem Club, which recently donated about 75 teddy bears.

Many are handmade by the Telephone Pioneers of America in Glendale, which distributes what they call "Hug-A-Bears" to the Burbank and Glendale Police, the Crescenta Valley Sheriff's office and the juvenile court system.

The stuffed animals come in especially handy, Brode said, when both parents of a child have been arrested. The police officer may take the child aside and use the bear as a distraction, so that they do not have to watch as their parents are handcuffed, he said.

"You want to let them know that their whole world has not been destroyed," Brode said.

Brode recalled a case in which two family members were killed in a double homicide. Juvenile officers used the bears to help ease the trauma as police questioned children about the tragedy.

Recently, a 3-year-old boy who had wandered away from home spent a couple of hours at the Burbank police station playing with a teddy bear on top of a desk.

"He was a good little boy," said Officer Kitty McDonald, who brought the boy into the station after he was found by a resident. His mother later claimed him, after she came home to find out from a baby-sitter that he was missing.

McDonald said the teddy bears are especially useful when beginning an interview with a small child. "It helps to break the ice and let them relax a little bit," she said.

A basket in Brode's office is full of other stuffed animals that came from a special donor--his 19-year-old daughter, Heather, who has cystic fibrosis and has been in and out of hospitals for most of her life.

"I've probably given her 100 stuffed animals over the last 19 years," said Brode, who would buy her the animals when he made hospital visits. "Her bedroom is stuffed with them."

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