Today's blotter on page 3A includes a police investigation of a woman who left her toddler in a Toyota Rav4 on Monday morning when she went to work inside the Mesa County Justice Center.
Fortunately, someone heard the child crying and called the police who were able to track down the mother inside the courthouse. The baby was fine and the mother was aghast that she had forgotten about her child. The police chose not to break out the windows because the child didn't seem in danger.
According to the police report, the child was unattended in the car for about 35 minutes.
The mother — a deputy district attorney — was issued a summons for child abuse. Since she works for District Attorney Dan Rubinstein, he's in no position to decide whether she should be prosecuted. Instead a special prosecutor from the 7th Judicial District will make that call.
Our hope is that the special prosecutor will recognize the case for what it is — a mistake that any parent could make — and decline to file a case. Prosecuting these incidents won't solve the problem because most of the time they happen innocently.
In fact, the worst thing we can do is shame parents who leave their kids in the car because it perpetuates the notion that willful neglect is the root cause of these incidents when science says otherwise.
The phenomenon of a parent forgetting a child is in the car — often with tragic results — has occurred so often that it's spawned its own field of research. In a nutshell, most cases of forgetting a child occur when ingrained habits — what one researcher calls "autopilot" mode — compete with our conscious memory.
For example, a new parent may be used to driving straight to work. When a baby arrives, and stress and sleep-deprivation begin to take a toll, the parent may fall into an old routine of driving straight to work, instead of stopping at daycare first.
No alarm bells go off because every other time they've arrived at work, they've never had a child in the car. The brain says, "you are now alone. There's no child in the car." If the baby is asleep or quiet, there's no trigger to interfere with the routine of shutting off the engine, pulling keys from the ignition, shutting the door and gettting inside.
David Diamond is a professor of psychology at the University of South Florida who for the past 15 years has studied the psychology of why kids get unintentionally and unknowingly left in cars. His top tip, he told HuffPost, is to accept that forgetting a child could happen to anyone — and to take precautions against complacency.
You can put a diaper bag in the front seat to remind you there's a child in the car or put your cellphone or purse next to a child in a car seat — anything to disrupt being on autopilot and jog your conscious memory that there's a child in the car.