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Teddy Bears Help Police Soothe Kids

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Nothing like a furry brown teddy bear to comfort the little ones tearful over life’s ordinary childhood traumas.

Now Los Angeles police are hoping the cuddly stuffed bruins will be able to work their magic during times of real trauma as well.

All too often, police say, they encounter children who are afraid of them. In an effort to soothe children who are crime victims or witnesses, police officers at the West Valley Division have launched the “We Care Bears” pilot program.

Armed with $6,000 in donations, LAPD Sgt. Dan Mastro spearheaded the effort to purchase 600 teddy bears outfitted with a custom jacket sporting a tiny LAPD badge that says “We Care”.

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Officers at the West Valley Division gave the first bear to a 7-year-old girl who had been kidnapped and raped in the Foothill Division, Mastro said.

Another bear went to a 3-year-old girl being examined in a Tarzana hospital for possible sexual abuse. Although she apparently had not been molested, she got a bear to accompany her through the upsetting examination process.

“She was really distraught,” Mastro said “The bear made all the difference.”

West Valley Division officers and prosecutors assigned to the city attorney’s domestic violence unit hand out bears to children who have been taken into protective custody or who have experienced a death in the family.

The SWAT team gives them to children who have had upsetting experiences, such as a confrontation between the SWAT team and their barricaded daddy.

The teddy bear campaign also furthers the Police Department’s push toward community-based policing by showing the community that officers care about the health and well-being of children, Mastro added.

To get the program up and running, police got a helping hand from members of the community, including the Panavision Corp., which donated $5,000 to purchase 500 bears. Los Angeles City Councilwoman Laura Chick helped launch the program and pitched in $1,000 from her office’s community service budget to pay for another 100 bears.

“While law enforcement can’t take away the hurt of a child’s trauma, providing a comforting teddy bear may provide some help, and it may also help open a dialogue between the child and officer,” said Chick, who chairs the City Council’s Public Safety Committee.

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Mastro said he got the idea for the program from a magazine story about state troopers in the Midwest who gave teddy bears to two young brothers who had just seen their little brother killed by a car. Mastro said he and his captain approached Panavision Corp. President John Farrand with the idea at his Woodland Hills office.

“They loved it,” Mastro said. “Their only question was how many bears did we need.”

The program’s many benefits have prompted officers at other police stations to jump on the bear wagon.

Officers at the Foothill Division are searching for sponsors so they can launch their own teddy bear program, and Panavision, which also has facilities in Hollywood, has offered to buy teddy bears for the station there.

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The program may be expanded to hospitals, and the Los Angeles city attorney’s office is mulling over the possibility of getting its own supply of teddy bears to give to children who are forced to testify at trials.


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