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Conyers PD updates policies to respond to children left in cars as 'emergencies'

The Conyers Police Department has updated its policies to treat reports of children left in hot cars as emergency situations. Many children are left in cars while parents are shopping, but, according to the Weather Channel, in 90-degree weather, the interior temperature of a car can climb to 109 degrees within about 10 minutes. (Staff photo: Ryan McKenzie)

The Conyers Police Department has updated its policies to treat reports of children left in hot cars as emergency situations. Many children are left in cars while parents are shopping, but, according to the Weather Channel, in 90-degree weather, the interior temperature of a car can climb to 109 degrees within about 10 minutes. (Staff photo: Ryan McKenzie)

CONYERS — As a result of the highly publicized death of a young metro Atlanta boy left in a hot car by his father, the Conyers Police Department has changed its policies and will now treat any report of a child left in a car during extreme temperatures as an emergency.

“It’s a hot topic in town, and citizens have approached members of the City Council and the Police Department and asked what our take on the metro case is and how would we respond,” said CPD Capt. Jackie Dunn.

Dunn said the Police Department reviewed its policies and decided to classify situations where a child is left in a vehicle when the outside temperature is 80 degrees or greater as an emergency and give officers the authority to respond in emergency mode.

Dunn said the CPD referred to the Weather Channel’s website, which states that when the outside temperature is 90 degrees, it takes 10 minutes for the temperature inside a vehicle to reach 109 degrees.

“Within an hour, it will be 133 degrees,” he said.

Dunn said police officers are routinely called to parking lots where someone has noticed a young child locked in a car.

“Over last year, we have had 40 cases of welfare checks of children left in vehicles,” he said.

He said those calls ranged from a parent being arrested due to criminal neglect to cases where no criminal charges were warranted but the Department of Family and Children Services was called. In some instances, a concerned citizen would report a child and officers would find an adult sleeping in the backseat.

Dunn said they have also made arrests of pet owners who have left animals in vehicles.

He said officers have broken car windows and extracted children or used a Slim Jim to open locked doors. If the child doesn’t appear to be visibly in distress, officers will sometimes take time to page the parent in the store where they are parked. Sometimes, the parent will call because they accidentally locked their keys inside the car with a child inside.

“Now, if it’s hot and a child is a left in a car, we will handle it by getting into the car and getting the child,” Dunn said.

The Conyers Police Department was prompted to make this change as a result of the case of 22-month-old Cooper Harris who died after his father, Justin Ross Harris, left him in an SUV all day on June 18 while he was at work. Harris remains in the Cobb County jail on murder and cruelty to children charges.

“This is a dangerous, and too often deadly, practice that seems to be on the rise,” said Conyers Police Chief Gene Wilson. “We have to take all precautions and actions to circumvent this practice and the negligent actions of parents and care-givers. We are responsible for serving and protecting the community. We have to act and respond in an effort to save the lives of innocent victims.”