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Interview with J.J. Bittenbinder

Aired June 12, 2003 - 19:12   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Also making news this week, the case, of course, in San Jose, California. Investigators say a kidnapped 9-year-old girl said she had asthma to win her release and then gave police vital clues that led to her attacker's capture. Now, of course, you never know where a criminal is going to strike or when your safety might be at risk. But preparing for danger could, of course, save your life.
So with that in mind, joining us now with a thought about what we can do to keep ourselves and especially our children safe, one of America's leading experts on crime and personal security, J.J. Bittenbinder.

Appreciate you joining us, J.J.

You know, I guess there's -- it's sort of a catch-22. You want to warn your kids, but you don't want to scare them unnecessarily. How do you talk to kids about this sort of stuff?

J.J. BITTENBINDER, COOK COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE: Well, you have to tell them the truth. You have to talk to them in terms they understand. You don't have to try to make them paranoid, but you tell them things like the reason I keep you so close and the reason I want to know all these things and the reason I don't want you to go out the yard, I don't want anybody to steal you. You don't want to get into sexual assault and rape. It's too much for the child.

COOPER: Too much detail.

BITTENBINDER: You just tell them that you don't want anybody to steal them.

COOPER: Now, in Miami one of the girls who was attacked, I believe, opened up the front door for her attacker. I know you tell kids who are home alone don't open up the front door for anyone, don't answer the telephone. But oftentimes, you know, that's a difficult thing for a kid to do. What if a parent wants to call their child or if someone is at the front door saying they're the police?

BITTENBINDER: Well, if the parent wants to call the child, the parent can call the child. Usually they have an answering machine. And if the child hears the parent's voice on the answering machine, he can pick it up. The mother can say, "Pick it up, Bobby." I found out by actual experiment that the answering machine will take a better message than my children.

Also, if somebody comes knocking on the door and says, "gas company" and the kid is alone, he doesn't answer. "Electric company," no. But if somebody knocks on the door and says, "Police!" the kid goes immediately to the telephone and calls 911. And when he talks to the dispatcher, he says to the dispatcher, "Did you send the police to my house?" And if the dispatcher says, "No, I didn't," then the kid says, "Well, you'd better send them now, because there's somebody banging on the door."

COOPER: What if someone breaks down the door? I mean your child's home alone, someone breaks down the door.

BITTENBINDER: If the child -- he doesn't even have to wait until the door is broken down. If somebody attempts to break into the house, the child is to leave the house. It is not the child's job to defend that homestead. I want that child to run to a trusted neighbor. But that's not the time to think about a neighbor. You've got to establish that before.

COOPER: When I was a kid growing up in New York, I got mugged coming home from school. You know, obviously a lot of kids are alone coming home from school. You say actually a book bag and a jacket can be a protection. How?

BITTENBINDER: Well, if somebody grabs, comes after the child, let the, just let the books go. Drop the books and run. If they grab the jacket, just come right out of the jacket. You really do not have to, you know, worry about the jacket, how much it costs or who gave it to you. If you're a parent and you get back there and a book is gone or the book bag is gone, you don't care. And if the jacket is gone, you don't care about that either.

COOPER: We've also seen, of course, cases of, you know, a car drives up alongside a kid, tells the child to get in and forces the child into the car. Anyway to get out of that situation?

BITTENBINDER: Oh, sure. That's easy. That's fast. When a child is approached by somebody in a vehicle, the fastest way out of that is to have the child go opposite the direction that the car is going because it's so much faster for the child to turn around and get out the other way.

Now, if the child is grabbed and thrown into a car, I want that child to scoot right across the seat and get right out the other side of the car because before this guy can get into the car and put his hands on that kid, that kid can come out there. Now, I also want the child to attract attention by yelling, "Stranger!" as loud as he can over and over again.

COOPER: Now, in the San Jose case, we're getting details now. We're hearing that the child used, knew her mother's cell phone number and was able to call it. What are the numbers that are key for kids to know? I mean I guess it's key for them to know, obviously, 911 and the parents' numbers. BITTENBINDER: Well, the parents' numbers is fine. But if you call the parent, the parent is going to call 911. Why not skip that step, call 911, have the child call 911. Because they're going to notify the police who are in that area and the police are going to respond. The child can, is also going to be told by the dispatcher stay on the line with me, what is your -- and they're going to ask questions of the child -- where are you? Where is your mother, you know, what's her phone number?

But the first thing you want to do is get the troops on the way.

COOPER: You know, the other thing that jumps out from that San Jose case, which is so frightening for parents, is that the alleged kidnapper apparently first came in contact with this little girl through his girlfriend's children. They were playing together. You know, it's a nightmare for parents, you think when you send them over to their friend's house, the parents are watching. They're safe.

How do you, you know, how do you look out for them when they're in someone else's care?

BITTENBINDER: Well, I demand this of others when I had small children. But if I had a small child playing in my home that I had never seen before, I'd ask that child his phone number and I'd call that parent and say I want you to know I've got your son over here, or I want you to know I've got your daughter over here and they're playing. What time do I have to have this child home? Are you going to come get the little girl or am I going to drive him home?

So you start a dialogue so that you immediately, you know, have a relationship with the other parent, the other family.

COOPER: I think dialogue the key word there, both with the other family and also with your child in all these instances. Good things to talk about.

Detective J.J. Bittenbinder, appreciate you joining us.


BITTENBINDER: Happy to be here.


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