Custody Exchanges at Police Stations: Are they Safe?

The idea sounds reasonable. If I want to insure that my child and I are safe when exchanging my child, surely I will be safe at the Police Station doing this, right? Local Police Stations have even been announcing established safe exchange zones, which are clearly marked areas in the parking lot of a well-lit police station, or even in the lobby of the police station, for people to meet and sell their craigslist or online purchased goods with less fear of a quick or violent rip-off. The problem is that these announcements have been increasingly mentioning that these typically un-staffed and un monitored, other than by camera, zones can also be used for child custody exchanges.

What could possibly go wrong?

On Christmas Eve in 2018 in Hamilton, Alabama, two children witnessed their father being fatally shot in the parking lot of a local police department during a custody exchange.

In January of 2021 a man was stabbed in front of the Richmond, California Police department during a custody exchange.

On January 6, 2022 A custody exchange in the North Versailles, Pennsylvania police parking lot ended in gunfire, leaving one man and a 6-year-old girl wounded

On January 17, 2022  there was a fatal shooting during a child custody exchange in the parking lot of a police substation in Chesterfield County, Virginia

The reality is that these "Safe-Exchange" zones may be fine for transactions of online purchases, but child custody exchanges, especially when there are safety concerns, usually need more intensive and direct precautions in place to mitigate the risks. And if a parent thinks that having the child exchange at a police station is necessary and a good idea, isn't there a high likelihood safety concerns exist? The idea often put forward is that the presence of law enforcement nearby will somehow be a deterrent, but that simply won't be true in many situations, especially in relationships where there has been intimate partner violence or high conflict. 

What can be done?

Members of the Supervised Visitation Network provide safe supervised exchanges of children in custody cases, that can minimize or mitigate the potential of violence.

The Procedures typically include:

Keeping parties separate at all times

Enforcing staggered arrival times to prevent stalking and other altercations

Conducting thorough intakes of all parties to understand the safety issues present with each family

Documenting behaviors and/or violations of court orders

Most member programs facilitate these exchanges in well lit, secure facilities with safety protocols and procedures in place. If communities do not have such a facility in place, the investment and expenses to create and maintain an exchange program are not substantial.

An unmanned area with security cameras only helps Law Enforcement capture perpetrators after tragedies have occurred and does nothing to prevent children from witnessing high charged emotional conflicts that commonly occur during exchanges.  SVN Members understand the unique emotional and physical safety risks that require careful preparation and training of those providing Supervised Exchanges.

For more information contact Joe Nullet, Executive Director at [email protected], or (904) 419-7861 Ext. 2