Free-Range Kids

Cops Threaten Illegal Kickball Players With Child Abuse Charges

"The next step, after tickets, it goes to child abuse."


What happens on a summer's eve when a couple dozen kids and parents spill into the street for a neighborhood game of kickball?

On a well-manicured street in Colorado Springs last week, this occasioned three cop cars, eight officers, and a citation for "obstructing passage or assembly."

The crime? Frolicking. More specifically: playing in the street without a permit.

The perpetrators, Ed Snyder and Joe Coleman, are hard-boiled recidivists. For four summers now, these men have brazenly organized weekly, 90-minute kickball games that bring out neighbors of all ages, from toddlers to teens to parents. Until recently, the games were not deemed a threat to public safety. But apparently a neighbor complained, and that was enough for the Colorado Springs Police Department to spring into action.

Some of the officers arriving on the scene were new recruits, Commander Tish Olszewski told the Colorado Springs Indy. "I looked at is as a great training opportunity for these new police officers," said Olszewski. "One of the things they have to learn is community engagement."

In response, Coleman quipped: "I wouldn't say this experience for most of the people here is community building."

When the cops arrived, they told the group they needed a permit to play in the street. But three weeks earlier, when the authorities first got involved after the neighbor's complaint, Snyder had actually tried to get a permit.

"The person got back to me and basically said there's a 14-day waiting period for this and we'd have to go and get signatures from everybody [on the block], every single time we had to do it, so it's not practical for a kickball game that lasts an hour and a half," said Snyder. "Plus you'd have to rent $300 worth of barricades each time, you can't put up your own barricades. It wasn't a practical solution."

An alternative solution, suggested the cops, was for the group to play at a local park, where they wouldn't be obstructing traffic.

But the group enjoyed the block party feel.

The alternative to that alternative was less pleasant.

"We have tried to reasonably come to a conclusion on how to settle this," said Olszewski. "We've given verbal warning after verbal warning. We've said, 'Hey, go the permit route. Go through the city and get a permit so you can block the street and play kickball.'"

By stubbornly insisting that it was their right to play in front of their homes, the locals were courting disaster.

"The next step, after tickets, it goes to child abuse," said Olszewski. "We get the District Attorney involved because you're putting them out there where a car could come by and plow into them. Then it goes to contributing to the delinquency of a minor, which is a felony. I don't think anyone wants to get charged with a felony. We have really tried to work with all of you. We don't want it to come to this."

Most likely no one wanted it to come to this. The simplest thing seems like it would be for the cops to allow or erect a barricade once a week and let the game—a local tradition by now—continue. Alternatively, if there's a park close by, it doesn't seem like a crazy request that the group play there.

What is crazy is the amount of red tape involved in getting permission to play on your own street. It shouldn't be that tough to give that space back to people, not cars, for an hour or two a week.

Crazier still is that without a nearly impossible-to-procure permit, the government has the power to slam people with the charge of child abuse.

Let's save that charge for people who actually abuse children, not for people who organize summer games that bring the community together.