TWIN FALLS — A new school year is bringing an uptick in reports by nervous parents about suspicious cars and people near children, but police have made no arrests nor offered evidence that would suggest children are in unusual danger.
The Twin Falls Police Department received four reports of suspected child enticement in August. It received no complaints in the same month last year, Lt. Terry Thueson said.
Police and school district officials aren’t sure what’s driving the increase. Possible factors could include the city’s growing population, and more awareness among children and parents about “stranger danger” and reporting anything that looks suspicious.
“I think it’s on the forefront of people’s minds,” said Ryan Bowman, director of operations for the Twin Falls School District. “People think about these things more than they did 15 or 20 years ago.”
Twin Falls police announced last month they investigated two reports and found no evidence of criminal activity.
Police received reports of two men driving a white van approaching children and offering them rides to school at Heyburn Avenue East and Teton Street, and near Sunrise Boulevard and Shoup Avenue East.
Thueson told the Times-News on Wednesday he wouldn’t disclose details about what happened, but he said the men involved had legitimate reasons to be in those areas.
For those two reports, Twin Falls School District officials notified parents through its alert system. Parents can sign up to receive phone calls, text messages or emails.
The text message advised parents: “Talk with your student about personal safety.”
Bowman doesn’t think more education is happening with students about stranger danger, though. “We’re doing what we’ve always done,” he said.
That includes instruction from school counselors and lessons in classrooms — especially, when new reports surface of suspected child enticement.
“We ask our teachers to visit with students about what to do when somebody approaches them,” Bowman said. “We have those discussions right in the classrooms.”
Across south-central Idaho, one of the most prominent recent cases of suspected child enticement happened last year in Burley.
In March, a special prosecutor dismissed the remaining charges against a Burley man charged after schoolgirls said he tried to lure them from a playground.
The court issued an order of dismissal for misdemeanor battery and enticing of children charges against 51-year-old Vadian Dougal.
Dougal was originally charged with felony second-degree kidnapping along with the misdemeanor charges. The felony was also dismissed.
Dougal was arrested along with another man at his home near White Pine Elementary School, where girls said the incident occurred in April 2016. Charges were later dropped against the second man.
The girls said the two men tried to grab them and lure them off school grounds with the promise of candy and money.
That’s a scary thought for any parent.
The bottom line for parents across the Magic Valley: Talk with your children about what to do if they see something suspicious and encourage them to talk with a trusted adult, said police and school officials.
“It’s not only a role of the schools to help educate the children,” Bowman said, “but it’s a good topic at the dinner table with your kids about the importance of personal safety.”