Police officer. Investigator. Assistant Professor. Dr. David Scott is making a difference in the East Texas community.
By Ivy Ashe
Population Health Scholar
University of Texas System
PhD Student in Journalism
UT Austin Moody College of Communication
David Scott has feet in a few different academies. A reserve police officer in Gladewater, a small town in East Texas, he trains new recruits at local police academies and teaches advanced child abuse investigations at the Texas Municipal Police Association. He is also an assistant professor of criminal justice at The University of Texas at Tyler, which he joined after 13 years as a police officer in Longview, Texas.
One thing that unites the different work is a long-standing interest in protecting children.
“Next to elderly folks, they’re our most vulnerable population, ” said Scott.
In one of his master degrees, Dr. Scott’s graduate thesis examined two different models of child advocacy centers: a centralized model where all personnel are in the same building. and a more scattered model where workers met bimonthly or on the weekends. Dr. Scott found there was a significant increase in successful prosecutorial outcomes coming from the centralized center and has since become an advocate
Dr. Scott’s current study at UT Tyler focuses on adolescents who have been deemed “high-risk” for exploitation. He’s collaborating with local nonprofits on the research.
His work with police officers, and officers-in-training, focused on preparing them to to face the same kinds of challenges that officers in Texas’ metro areas—Dallas, Houston, Austin—face when coping with cases of child abuse and human trafficking, albeit on a smaller scale.
“We don’t have the international airport’s or the ship channel like in Houston,” Scott said. “We do see kids being exploited statewide. The types of crimes we see on a daily basis—they’re consistent throughout the world.”
In smaller communities, local partnerships and collaborations are crucial to keeping children safe. Dr. Scott emphasizes this both in his work with police and in work he does directly with other community organizations. It’s something he trains his UT Tyler students to address as well. Dr. Scott teaches both undergraduates and graduate courses in criminal justice policy, criminal investigations, criminology, and criminal procedures.
“You just want to help push the message out to advocates, businesses, schools, anyone,” Dr. Scott said. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all message. Teachers and advocates need different messages than law enforcement does, which needs different messages than prosecutors do.”
Teachers, for example, are taught to ask the right questions of students and to look for changes in performance or attitude “beyond the typical drama of being a teenager,” Dr. Scott said.
Community members learn to document abuse reports effectively, so the case has a better chance in court, and to become familiar with relevant laws. Trainings also emphasize the legal obligation people have to report suspicions of child abuse.
The community training and outreach also helps dispels any misguided views people may have picked up from television and movies about how child abuse “looks.”
“A lot of that is heavily dramatized,” Dr. Scott said. On the flip side, however, it’s often hard for people to believe that child abuse and human trafficking could be happening in their town. In 90 percent of cases, Dr. Scott said, the victim knows the offender.
“It’s happening in the home, in the school,” he said. “I think in general you need to be aware that it’s going on, and not turn a blind eye and pretend it’s not going on in the community.”
For law enforcement officers involved in the cases, the emotional and mental stress is a primary concern. Short- or long-term post-traumatic stress disorder is common, and officers must learn to acknowledge its effects.
“There’s a lot of self-checking and being aware of yourself, and not becoming obsessed with the case,” Dr. Scott said. “There are cases that are going to stay with you, that are going to haunt you.”
Because of the mental toll that cases take, few officers investigate child abuse over their entire career. Still, Dr. Scott said that closing a case and ensuring that justice is carried out brings enormous satisfaction.
“There’s closure,” he said. “You do feel like you made an impact.”