With the debate over corporal punishment heating up, some parents who want to spank their children are asking the police to supervise to make sure they won’t get into legal trouble.
A 42-year-old man called the Okeechobee County Sheriff's Office in Okeechobee, Florida, on Monday to request that an officer be present when he punished his 12-year-old daughter who had gotten into a violent argument with her sister.
“(He) wanted me to stand by while he spanked her with the paddle… I stood by as (he) spanked (her) 4 times on her buttocks. Since no crime had been committed, this case is closed,” the responding officer wrote in the incident report.
The Okeechobee County Sheriff's Office did not have a spokesperson available on Friday, but Undersheriff Noel Stephen told a local TV station that parents have made similar requests before.
“It happens,” Stephen told WPBF in West Palm Beach. “It’s definitely not something we advertise to do, and even though law enforcement has been willing to help out in this situation, watching a parent discipline their child is something that’s done only when a deputy has no other calls to handle.”
Stephen estimated he has supervised 12 spankings, he told the station.
In Florida, corporal discipline of a child is not considered abuse as long as it’s done by a parent or legal guardian and does not result in harm, according to state law. Indeed, corporal punishment is legal in all 50 states.
Public opinion also supports a parent’s right to spank. In a recent Harris poll, 81 percent of Americans said spanking children is sometimes appropriate. Still, as the Florida case illustrates, some parents worry they'll get in trouble.
The issue was in the spotlight again this fall when Vikings running back Adrian Peterson allegedly used a wooden "switch" to punish his 4-year-old son. In November, Peterson entered a no-contest plea to misdemeanor reckless assault in the case.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll taken after the incident came to light found almost 70 percent of respondents approved of spanking as long as it didn’t involve an implement, like a belt or cane.
Still, the debate over whether it’s appropriate or effective continues. A study published in the journal Pediatrics found spanking kids can make them more aggressive later. Some countries, including Sweden, have banned corporal punishment all together.