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Ask A Cop: Talking to kids about strangers

Editor’s note: Every week a Lake Oswego police officer answers your questions in this space. Send questions to Reporter Cliff Newell at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call him at 503-636-1281, ext 105.

“There has been a great deal of community concern about the recently reported child luring incidents that have been in the news. What can I do and how should I address this with my children?”

As always, report any suspicious activity to the Lake Oswego Police Department as soon as possible. Try to include as much descriptive information as you can to help responding police personnel. Filippelli

As school resource officer, I teach children attending Lake Oswego schools about stranger safety annually from kindergarten through fourth grade. First we establish that a stranger is just “someone you don’t know” and that strangers are everywhere. We talk about not being afraid of strangers but learning to be safe around them.

I stress the importance of staying close to a trusted adult at all times when they’re out in public and who their “safe grown-ups” are. We talk about what to do if they are separated from their parents while out in public and the safest choices to make if they need help. An example would be going to a checker or clerk if they find themselves lost in a grocery store. This usually generates many stories.

Next, I run through several age-appropriate scenarios using black and white lesson cards to provide a visual example of each story and we talk about what the safest choices would be in each case. The common lesson is that if a stranger asks you to do something, it’s not going to be a safe decision. The children are taught to “say ‘No,’ Go away from the stranger and Tell a safe grown-up.” “No, Go and Tell” is reinforced in all age groups.

There are four basic rules I teach children to follow when they’re not with a safe grown-up. Don’t talk to strangers; don’t take anything from a stranger; keep a safe distance from strangers; and never get into a stranger’s car. Parents can help by reinforcing these rules periodically as a reminder.

Children under 10 years old should always be accompanied by an adult or older sibling or caregiver. Older children are encouraged to use the buddy system and not to walk home alone. Parents can help coordinate walking groups and travel routes with families nearby.

Another good idea for parents is to talk about and point out “safe places” in their neighborhood that their children could go if they felt scared or uncomfortable. Friend’s and neighbor’s houses or public places like the library or a firehouse are some examples. Communication and planning are key ingredients in helping to keep our children safe.

— Steve Filippelli, school resource officer, Lake Oswego Police Department



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