Out of the cold and dark, a voice cries for help

Sunday, November 30, 1997

The police officer knows that he will never forget the words, and the way the child said them.

The officer--Edward Hofkens, of the Brillion, Wis., Police Department, about 80 miles north of here--was just completing his shift when the boy, 11 years old, barefoot, wearing no coat, came out of the cold Wisconsin night and into the police station.

The boy was terrified and sobbing, his voice shaking.

He saw the police officer and, through his sobs, said:

"Boy, am I glad to see you."

The boy recognized Officer Hofkens because Hofkens is the department's liaison officer with the Brillion Elementary School. One of the lessons Hofkens always teaches the children at the school is that if they're ever in trouble--if they're ever scared, or hurt, or don't know where to turn--then a police officer is the person to go to.

And now here, in the darkness of night, was this child wearing no shoes or socks, no coat, crying. The temperature outside was in the 30s.

Hofkens asked the child what was wrong. The boy said that he and his 9-year-old brother had been thrown out of the house by their father and mother. They were alone in the night.

And he said something else:

He said he was afraid for his sister.

"He said that he was scared because his sister was in a cage," Officer Hofkens recalled. "He said that his parents had put her in the cage for the night."

Hofkens, at that moment, had no idea what the boy was referring to. He would find out soon enough.

The boy, wearing no shoes or socks, had told his little brother to wait near their house for him, and had walked alone to the police station, hoping for help. He was about to get it.

Brillion is a town of 2,900, with only six officers on the police force. Three officers went to the home where the child lived.

There they found the boy's father and mother--Michael Rogers, 28, and Angeline Rogers, 28. The officers said they wanted to go into the basement.

With a flashlight, they did. The basement was cold and unlighted, and stank of human waste.

At first the officers didn't see anything. And then, in one corner, they found a small wire dog cage. Twenty-four by 17 inches.

Locked inside the cage was a 7-year-old girl.

"Our officers removed the girl from the cage and tried to comfort her," said Brillion Police Chief Alan Radloff. "Apparently this is the way she was often made to spend the night."

According to a criminal complaint that was later filed by Calumet County District Atty. Ken Kratz, the father said he had locked the girl in the cramped basement dog cage overnight about six times in the previous two weeks because, the father said, she has psychiatric problems and has problems with controlling her urination and defecation. There were five children in the house, ranging in age from 16 months to 11; according to the criminal complaint, the father said he had struck the four older children with a wooden stick "when one of the children would not admit to a violation of the rules of the household."

Michael Rogers was charged with eight counts of child abuse, and Angeline Rogers was charged with eight counts of failing to prevent the abuse. Details of the case will develop in court.

But those words, spoken by the cold, crying, barefoot child to the police officer, are what are worth remembering:

"Boy, am I glad to see you."

With all the stories in the news about police officers who abuse their power, with all the stories in the news about courts of law that turn their backs on children, those words should be a lasting reminder to all police officers, and to all judges. A reminder of why men and women become police officers and judges in the first place.

To help. To protect. To be the people to whom the wronged and the frightened and the powerless can turn when no one else is there.

Too often, those sentiments sound archaic, like something from an old civics textbook. But that 11-year-old boy believed it. He believed that when there appeared to be no hope at all, there was hope at a police station.

Think about the courage it took. His sister locked in a cage in the freezing blackness, him desperate about how to help her, thrown out of the house himself with no shoes or coat, so young. Walking alone in the night to the police station. Think about the courage--and the faith.

Through his tears:

"Boy, am I glad to see you."

Every police officer in this country--every judge--ought to think about those words every day!

article by Bob Greene......11/30/97