L.A. has the largest population of chronically homeless individuals and the second-largest population of homeless families with children, according to the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department’s annual homelessness report. And they have the highest rate of unsheltered homeless families — nearly 39 percent of the estimated 7,505 homeless people in families with children —which thrusts children into vulnerable situations, like the one two Huntington Beach police officers discovered.
After learning about the situation, Officer Scott Marsh started consulting with the mother and coordinating with the department’s Homeless Task Force to find the pair housing, leaving the 11-year-old girl and 38-year-old Officer Zach Pricer off on their own.
“For an 11-year-old girl, to see a police officer towering over her is a scary thing,” Pricer, a 13-year veteran of the police department, said to the Orange County Register.
So he drew a hopscotch court.
“If you touch the line, you’re out,” he explained to the quiet girl next to him. “If there’s a marker in the square you’ve got to jump over it. Get it?”
The young girls stayed silent, so the “towering” officer started hopping his way through the game.
“And there’s no walking either!” he somewhat breathlessly reminded her as he finished his first pass through the boxes. Pricer’s struggle to pick up the marker as he bounced back to the beginning garnered a giggle from the girl. (We’ll overlook the fact that his hands went to the ground while he struggled to pick it up, something any frequent hopscotcher would know is an automatic disqualifier).
“Ok, now it’s your turn,” Pricer said after another go. The 11-year-old jumped right in, her blonde ponytail bouncing as she jumped through the boxes.
“I was trying to break the ice and get her to feel comfortable with me,” Pricer said of his community policing method, which has now been shared widely. And although he doesn’t have the same moves as D.C.’s break-dancing cop, in that moment Pricer helped give the girl a tiny semblance of a carefree childhood.
“It distracted her from an adult problem,” Officer Jennifer Marlatt, spokeswoman for the Huntington Beach Police Department, said.
As of March 31, the Orange County Register reported that a Homeless Task Force officer was working to find housing for the mother and daughter.