February 8, 2001
Young Hero Sets Example
Sixth-grader Alexandra Coffey honored by Santa Monica police for 911 call.
Nothing seemed unusual to sixth-grader Alexandra Coffey when she and nearly 300 classmates filed into the auditorium at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy last week. But then she spotted her parents. Next, she recognized a uniformed police officer. And before she knew it, she was called to the stage where Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) Chief James T. Butts, Jr., presented her with a chief's commendation -- an award given to a handful of police officers and even fewer citizens. Alexandra, 11, is one of the youngest to be publicly recognized this way by the SMPD.
Last December, Alexandra was home with a visiting uncle when she happened to look out a window of her family's apartment and see a man violently beat his girlfriend in front of a bar across the street. "I wanted to go down and punch the man," she said. "But I decided to call the police instead."
Good thing, since none of the many adult witnesses picked up the phone that night, even after the man threatened to kill the woman, according the police report.
"She spoke very calmly, very professionally and extremely clearly about what was going on," said 911 operator Helen Weathers, who took the call. When police arrived minutes later, the couple was gone. Again, Alexandra was the only witness calm enough to provide the details that enabled police to detain the suspect.
"She just did an ordinary thing, but it was an extraordinary deed" because it may have saved a woman's life, said Weathers, who suggested that the police honor Alexandra.
Just a day before the school assembly, Los Angeles residents were reminded that inaction can be ugly when a woman was stabbed to death in a Redondo Beach carjacking attempt while onlookers did nothing until it was too late.
In contrast, Alexandra's sense of responsibility "gives kids an awareness that if they do see something, they're empowered to take action," said Rick Crocker, the officer on the scene in December. "An 11-year-old set an example for all of us."
The event was important to Alexandra in many ways. "It was a big step because I've always been really quiet. I've never done anything as big as this," she said. "Some of my classmates were amazed that I got an award because I'm a girl."
Take Noah Kaufman, 12, for example, who said he thought boys are usually braver than girls. "It showed me that girls can do things too," he said.
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