What we teach children about police

"Someone is causing a lot of trouble."

Josh Stearns, a reporter who has covered the Occupy movement extensively, asks, "Why is this children's book teaching my kid about SWAT vehicles and Riot Control practices?" From his blog post:

Visiting the local library yesterday my son picked out a book all about police. I was stunned when, after pages and pages of info about police cars and police offices, there were these two pages about Riot Control Trucks and SWAT Vans.

Even after months of tracking conflicts between police and the press I still have a profound respect for much of law enforcement and the jobs they do in our communities. However, the descriptions of water cannons being turned on protesters and the taunting opening on the SWAT page, “Someone’s causing a lot of trouble…,” all seemed out of place. Given the increasingly militarized response we have seen to citizen protests, seeing Riot and SWAT teams portrayed this way in a children’s book was troubling.

More scans here.

If you'd like to pick up a copy as a gag gift for your favorite police-beaten Occupier, the book is "Police Cars." Google Books has a few scanned pages here.


  1. It’s much more convenient for a police state to have subjects who are cowed from childhood.

  2. “Why is this children’s book teaching my kid about SWAT vehicles and Riot Control practices?” 

    Because it’s a children’s book about police vehicles??

    1. Yes, but it’s also a book about (whether intended or not) introducing them to and instilling in them the militaristic euphemisms of the day, thereby making social control all that much easier.

      1.  not every riot is a righteous act of democracy or rebellion against the man. sometimes it’s a stupid drunken excuse to vandalize things after your hockey team loses.

        1. @oasisob1:disqus    @google-708e30830c6c6b10fc79e6543e4cbb4f:disqus You are right we should not lie to children…. however there are many things are aren’t appropriate to introduce them to…. I don’t see anyone rushing to make books covering the military occupying Iraq and fighting terrorists or busting down on drug labs or prostitution.

          1.  >>You are right we should not lie to children…. however there are many things are aren’t appropriate to introduce them to…. I don’t see anyone rushing to make books covering the military occupying Iraq and fighting terrorists or busting down on drug labs or prostitution.<<

            There are children's books on all of those things.

        2. The number of sports riots compared to the number of human rights riots is tiny, in the US at least. Of course, Europe has a soccer riot every week.

      1. I watched Nineteen Eighty-Four just last night, actually.

        A lot of it seems quite unlikely (I much prefer Brave New World or V for Vendetta when it comes to such stuff), but there was certainly the odd element that appeared to have been lifted straight out of Orwell’s nightmare and put to work…

        This utter crock of shit War on Terror that’s been rammed down our throats seems almost too cliched to have any currency, but unfortunately the long-term creation of fuckwits program has been bearing fruit for a while now…

    1. When was the last time you, personally, saw a SWAT officer on any streetcorner, anywhere?  Not photos of it, just walking down the street and bam, guy in riot gear with an MP5, just chillin’, keeping an eye out for some freedom to shoot?

      1. On my daily travel through Penn Station, so that’s twice a day.  And anytime I have ever gone past Wall Street, so chalk that up to a bi-monthly visit downtown.

        They typically tote the CAR-15, if you want to get specific, not the MP-5.  But there are at least two, typically four guys in riot gear just chillin’, keeping an eye out for some freedom to shoot.

      2.  Day before yesterday, but admittedly, he was on his way to lurk in a bush 2 doors up the street.

      3. I’ve seen a fair share of body-armored assault-rifle toting cops just in my own neighborhood.  Something about a “war on drugs”, I think?  Funny, I never see anyone else with so much as a pistol, let alone paramilitary gear.  Maybe it’s different where you live – if so, good for you.

      4.  Uhh at any airport in the US and definitely in Europe and oh have you been to Oakland lately? cuz I have. Talk about a police state… Just open your eyes and you will see they are out there.

      5.  1st time – Heathrow Airport in London, in 1989. Subsequent times – train in Switzerland, train in Germany, crossing Mexico to USA border, Border Stop on the 15 just north of San Diego ………

      6.  I had a couple come in my garage with the long guns out.  They were after my neighbor, who wasn’t home. 

  3. Fairly innocuous IMO, pick any household object and describe in the same manner and you’ll see what I mean.

    There’s much worse out there for kids.

    IMO it’s like sex, better they know about it if it can be presented in a fairly level, unsensational format.

    As for that line “Someone is causing a lot of trouble”, because the book is solely about police and police equipment, the inference is that the trouble is unlawful and a danger to the public and police to such extent that special weapons and tactics are best suited. Like a guy on a clock-tower, or hostage situation. To me it does not infer anything else.

    You want fucked up, the books in my elementary school library regarding Vietnam and other things military were downright indoctrination compared to this. I bet some are still there.

    Anyone see the bloggers complaint? When I was 6 through 11 I loved guns, tanks, cops n robbers, cowboys n indians, war, swords, bloody batttles, all that shit.

    Now I love civil rights, respect First Nations, vote, work, garden, even protest on occasion.

    1. Now I love civil rights, respect First Nations, vote, work, garden, even protest on occasion.

      And since that happened to you, surely it happens to every kid. 

      Oh, wait.

      1. I don’t think you meant to imply you want some control over how each kid turns out, but you did.

        I related my experience and how I felt it affected me as demonstrative of how innocuous the book seems to me in context, given that I was exposed to far worse. That’s not the same as claiming I am typical in any way. 

        I asked a question in the post, you got an answer I presume?

        1. I think that the best response for concerned parents isn’t to try to limit or influence the books and media that are made available to children, but for parents to teach children how to properly understand and respond to these things.

          Every library has books on war, on torture, on murder, on drugs, on every vice and crime imagineable. Most kids never touch them, because they’d rather read something like the latest fantasy novel or a collection of sci-fi short stories or whatever. Sure, there’s always going to be a subset of kids who enjoy the various illustrated guides to WWII vehicles or who on a whim pick up and skim through ocollections of old newspaper articles on the IRA or the Kosovo War – I personally fell into that category from a very young age, six or seven years old. But the only harm that can come from it is if they aren’t given the tools to make sense of it in some way.

          My father has told me stories of how when my mother decided to take away my brothers’ and my toy guns because she didn’t like the idea of such violent imaginings, we’d use sticks or cardboard tubes, or even our fingers. You could easily hear that same anecdote or similar from millions of families, stretching back over the past century, I’d bet good money on it.

          Kids are going to be exposed to this stuff no matter what. But the only harm that ever comes of it is when the parents don’t help the kids understand properly. My father was a doctor, my mother worked with animals, I was taught from a very early age that life is precious and that even the “lesser” animals are more like us than we sometimes wish to admit. I was taught gentleness and compassion, and I was made to understand that violence, REAL violence, was unacceptable, that it was a last resort. All my life I’ve played video games, I must have “killed” many millions of enemies over the years, but I’ve never so much as struck another person in anger, even when my own safety has been on the line.

          Looking back, more than anything I wish I had had someone who was willing to teach me about the darkness and the cruelty of the world. It’s a hard and isolating thing to teach yourself about war, hatred, stupidity, and greed – I’ve got the scars to prove it. I’d much rather have had someone to guide me, to help me make sense of human violence, to reassure me that despite these social ills there were ways to fight against them, to protect the good things.

          But all I ever had were the very books Mr. Stearns is complaining about. And you know what? I learned more from the biased, unsavory, unsettling scrawlings of propagandists than I ever did from my formal educators. I put 2 and 2 together and I figured out what bullshit looked like. As a child I saw the flaws and contradictions that grown adults seem to miss. Why? Because I’m somehow special? No. I just had access to multiple competeing sources of bullshit, and the contradictions made me ask questions.

          The most dangerous thing in the world is growing up not knowing that there are other ways of thinking about the world.

          1. Damn straight. 

            My young boy at 2 1/2 is completely infatuated with cars n trucks n such. I probably was too, and like me he’ll read any book he chooses to, I’ll be along for the ride.

            I mention the cars because I loathe the NA transportation scene, on which I could if I chose call myself expert and for advice on which I have been paid. I hoped my boy wouldn’t fall in love with cars, but, I’ll just have to roll with it.

            I hope the left of center hereabouts that are getting their backs up about the cop images in that book understand that it is precisely the same as when the right of center get their backs up on anything but abstinence. 

            Because it aint pretty.

          2. I hope the left of center hereabouts that are getting their backs up about the cop images in that book understand that it is precisely the same as when the right of center get their backs up on anything but abstinence.

            Because sex is equivalent to State-sponsored repression?

          3. Abstinence-only education is secretly an anti-rape campaign? Well, sting me like a gosh-darned bee.

    2. It’s the limiting of perspective that’s the problem – both for kids and adults.  Describing what the dominant force does and the dangers they face without even a hint that there’s another group of people who are affected, and who are worth some consideration.

      Imagine if this book had been about frontiersmen, and it was like “Indians are attacking!  Some frontiersmen use guns called revolvers that you can aim with one hand.  This makes it easier to kill Indians.  Torches help the frontiersman burn villages, and they ride horses to escape danger quickly.”

      All of that is perfectly true and accurate, but the limited perspective implies something: these are just reasonable people doing justified things.  That’s not true with frontiersmen, and a lot of us think that often it’s not true with the cops.

      1. The language doesn’t support that, beyond that -all specialized text limit perspective-.

        In the two examples given, the special forces or equipment are described as specific to their purpose. Riot, and law enforcement. Why and who are altogether missing. That exclusion is hardly a limitation of perspective, rather it leaves that door wide open, hopefully for parents to fill in the gap.

        Your analogy imagining does not limit itself in that fashion at all as you are specific in mentioning two specific groups in conflict, killing one another. 

        The book is about police equipment and that includes what the equipment’s purpose is, it is not a technical manual. 

  4. I think it reflects reality. Want to teach your kid about the police? well, the SWAT and riot control are a part of police reality. Let them know early what they’re up against. ‘Yes kid, they’ve got this stuff. But that doesn’t mean they are always either right or entitled to use it. At least you know where the stakes are at.”     – and yes, I have two kids (5 and 7) who know all about it, and help me spot ‘spy cameras’ (surveillance) when we go out for walks.

  5. Why is the book teaching your kids about SWAT and riot control?  Because it’s a BOOK ABOUT POLICE.

    Would you prefer they leave that part out? Or maybe the book should be about how police are always corrupt and evil, since that’s a great thing to teach kids too.

  6. If there was a similar Iranian, Venezuelan etc. book, all these Happy Mutants would be having a field day mocking it.

    1. God, that was awful.  If my mom wrote that song I can’t imagine how I’d ever live it down.

  7. I am with many of the other commenters here.  Those are police vehicles.  SWAT is called when the trouble is worse than normal police officers are trained to handle and the book is targeted at kids.  Riot trucks do not imply protest suppression to me.  A peaceful protest is not a riot.  A riot is a riot and they are a real thing separate from protests that do happen.  Again the officers and vehicles are unique to that situation and fit right in in a book about the police 

    1. I give protests with purpose some serious benefit of doubt when they turn not-peaceful too. That’s civil disobedience, which is often in defense of freedoms.

      But, if you thought your team would win the Stanley Cup and you were disappointed when they did not, go the fuck home and cry. Don’t try to destroy everything and if you do don’t complain about the water cannons.

    2. “Again the officers and vehicles are unique to that situation and fit right in in a book about the police.”

      Are you saying that riot equipment isn’t used to put down peaceful protests? I’ve been beaten and gassed by riot cops for peacefully protesting.

      1. But the book is specific in indicating “riot” as the sole purpose. Thereby according to what that book has in it, you were wronged by police.

        The reality is that the only other option is not to have books about this crap, but it’s fair to say few here would agree to that route.

        1. What I get from ‘unique to that situation’ is ‘if the police used these against you, you must have been rioting. they don’t use these to suppress peaceful dissent.’

          Maybe I’m only reading it that way because, if I try to talk about my experiences, some people tell me I must have been violent and must have done something to deserve the violence and ptsd, and I wonder where people learn the victim-blaming.

          1. That’s cause people are stupid. Up above I gave the example of sports riots. Most folk would support suppression of persons destroying an area because their team won or lost, and I say so because I mean that even if police were perfect, which they are far from, we would probably still need something like police for the time being. Keep up the good fight.

  8. We should censor children’s books that include factual information about real objects! Or ban them!

    Seriously though, I think this is much ado about nothing. I think that if you spend a lot of time covering the Occupy movement, you may be prone to infer malicious or anti-democratic intent when riot control and SWAT are mentioned. But riot control trucks and SWAT vans are not inherently malicious or anti-democratic, and I don’t think these book pages are trying to brainwash children against the right to assemble.

    I do think it’s a problem that there’s a growing mistrust of police and authority, much of it validated by events occurring in conjunction with the Occupy movement. The solution is partly to institute adequate checks to police power, and partly to not be so paranoid. Let’s not be too quick to demonize the police and authority, or our kids will grow up to be sociopaths — which is arguably just as bad as them growing up to be docile and subservient citizens.

    1. But riot control trucks and SWAT vans are not inherently malicious or anti-democratic

      How many riots have there been in the US in last half-century that weren’t the result of the police beating or killing someone?
      1) Create a need.
      2) Fill it.
      3) Profit!

      1. Not sure about the US, but offhand we have two or three sports riots a decade in Canada.

  9. this reminds me of a study where kids were asked why it’s bad to kill someone. many were saying that it’s bad because you’ll get caught by police and end up in jail.

    so people don’t always believe in justice and police, but they fear it. 

    1. That’s a strange conclusion to draw from that study.  Because it implies that if there weren’t so many scary police, kids would be murdering each other all over the place.

      But look to the past, when there were fewer police and also a reduced emphasis on law and order.  What do you see?  Fewer murders.  You can even go back in time to when the US didn’t really have police…to when you really could up and kill someone without going to jail.  Must’ve been a constant bloodbath, right?  Not so much.

      Maybe the problem is that modern children are being raised to blindly respect law and authority, rather than forming their own strong moral compass.  Maybe the problem is that we’re expected to let the government dictate what we should and shouldn’t do, rather than letting principal and mutual humanity guide us.

      1. ?? Before 1900 homicide rates in North America are almost entirely speculative. We didn’t have the information infrastructure to even come close to tracking. 

        Europe, on the other hand, was fairly developed by then. In 1750 the average rate across euro nations was 45 per 100,000. Now it’s 3 per 100,000.

        Rosy views of the past are often accepted for a lack of information to the contrary, but everywhere information can be had it demonstrates that people have been progressive over the long-haul, not regressive. There are ups and downs, war in particular drops homicide rates dramatically, but in general homicide rates have dropped radically since “the past”

        If you want to imagine that frontiers were less hostile than developed areas in the past, I can tell you you will need your imagination. Homicide rates have dropped, not risen.

  10. “See Dick. See Dick run. See the uniforms chase Dick. See the undercovers come out of the crowd and grab Dick. See Dick get tased. See Dick not put his hands behind his back fast enough. See the officer shout “Stop resisting!” See Dick get kicked and beaten.”

    “See Jane. See Jane stumble. Jane has had too much to drink. See the nice officers help Jane back to her apartment. See the officers go into Jane’s bedroom with her. What are they doing in there? They seem to be taking a very long time. Perhaps they are helping Jane put her pajamas on and tucking her in. Maybe they are reading her a bedtime story. Isn’t Jane lucky that the officers are so friendly?”

  11. I’ve seen this very book and I had the same initial reaction.  My son — at 7.5 — is very fascinated by police stuff but I — and I alone — have the job to put this stuff in context about when and how this stuff can be used (and overused).

  12. It’s a random book found in a library, that hardly merits the “OMG THEY AER INDOCTRINATING ZEE KINDER!” outrage.

    If this was part of, say, elementary school curriculum, you might have a discussion point here.

    1.  actually, I’m not even sure then it would be cause for concern.  aren’t there some legit reason for SWAT teams that go beyond beating up Occupiers?  I know that when a friend of mine and two other officers were killed in Pittsburgh by a gunman holed up in his house with body armor and a stash of guns…the SWAT team showed up. 

      The riot police showed up in Vancouver last year, and for good reason. 

  13. I think a lot of people are missing the point – indoctrinating kids to an authoritarian system is pervasive, and so we shouldn’t, of course, be too surprised that it turns up in a children’s book. Nevertheless, people who are interested in challenging that authoritarian system should be concerned about understanding all of the ways that indoctrination happens.

    And, to be clear: (1) it is an authoritarian system.  This, I hope, is something that does not require disputation, so I’ll just leave it at that. And (2) it is indoctrination. Kids would not naturally come to the conclusion that police are good (in fact, if this perception were not managed for them, and their encounter with police were through, say, watching COPS, or watching cops, they might conclude that police are violent assholes who should be avoided and feared, not respected); kids would not naturally come to many conclusions if they were not taught them. They are instructed from early on to cooperate with the system and respect its gatekeepers; this is something everyone has internalised by the time they are adults, and so we see it as natural to teach it to our children.

    If we were to imagine a society that did NOT operate on the system of authoritarian control of the population, such instruction would be absent. We might instead expose children to the same kind of propaganda we give them about, say, Nazis; I learned from an early age (mostly from Indiana Jones, I think) that Nazis wear uniforms, like to march around, and are very bad.

  14. >>Josh Stearns, a reporter who has covered the Occupy movement extensively, asks, “Why is this children’s book teaching my kid about SWAT vehicles and Riot Control practices?” From his blog post: <>However, the descriptions of water cannons being turned on protesters <<

    The book contains no such description. Is specifically describes water cannons being turned on RIOTERS. Of course any child is going to know that it's POSSIBLE to turn a riot cannon on anyone at all, even people who aren't rioting, but the book does not endorse or even MENTION turning them on protestors.

    Besides, the book is entitled "Police Cars" and riot control trucks and SWAT vans are police cars. Why on earth would you NOT include them?

  15. How is this indoctrination? It’s informing children of what two kinds of police vehicles are used for. That’s it. It’s not endorsing their use, or stating that they are never misused, it’s just saying, “This is what this is, and this is how it is meant to be used.”

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