It’s hard not to sympathize with the 28-year-old mother who, realizing she’d left her cellphone in the library, covered her 5-month-old daughter up with a blanket, locked her in the car and ran in to retrieve it — only to get cited by police for endangering the welfare of her child when she returned reportedly three minutes later.
Of course any number of tragic events could have ensued as Mom dashed into the library. Someone could have absconded with the child or driven off with her; another car, or an asteroid, could have crashed into the car, causing it to explode.
Ditto the woman herself: As Saratoga County District Attorney James Murphy pointed out in a May 2 Gazette story, she might have tripped on the steps on her way in the library, hit her head and fallen unconscious to the pavement.
But as any parent knows, you can worry yourself sick thinking about all the horrendous things that can befall a child. It’s just not a very constructive way to go through life. Better to weigh the prospects of something bad happening and modify behavior accordingly. We suspect that in this case, most people would agree that the chances of disaster striking during those three minutes were minimal.
So the idea of automatically lodging criminal charges against any parent who leaves a child unattended in a motor vehicle — which 19 states do and some legislators want New York to do — seems silly. What makes more sense is New York’s current law, which authorities can use with discretion when a parent blatantly exercises suspect judgment. (In this case, for example, if it had been 90 degrees outside, and leaving the child in a closed car for three minutes would have jeopardized its well-being.)
Indeed, we think police overreacted even charging the woman with a misdemeanor — when a few words of warning would have sufficed. Yes, she was allowed to plead to the lesser, all-purpose violation, disorderly conduct.
But the notion that a parent must keep a child in sight at all times or face arrest seems a bit extreme.