Edmonton police say they are cracking down on parents and guardians who leave their children alone in vehicles.

“We’ve had a rather large increase in calls with regards to children left alone in vehicles,” said Sgt Gary Willits with the Child At Risk Response Team. “In the last 49 hours, we’ve had two incidents where we’ve laid charges.”

Sgt. Gary Willits

“There’s no room for any give here,” said Sgt. Gary Willits, who said EPS will be more aggressive in punishing parents and guardians who leave their children alone in vehicles. (CBC)

One mother was charged after she left her seven-month-old baby in the back of a van near 137th Avenue and Manning Drive on Wednesday. A bystander called the police, who were able to reach in through the van’s open window, unlock the doors, and rescue the child.

The mother was later found in the dressing room of a nearby store.

On Friday, a second woman was charged after leaving her two-year-old nephew alone in a car. In this case, the child managed to free himself from his car seat and crawled to the front seat of the car, where a bystander spotted him with a bloody nose. Seeing the child was in distress, the bystander was able to reach through the van’s window and unlock the door, triggering the van’s alarm.

The aunt returned to the parking lot when she heard the alarm and found the bystander treating the child’s bloody nose.

Police say the woman who found the child snapped photos of the van and licence plate before the aunt drove away, which helped them later lay charges under the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act for wilfully causing child to be in need of intervention.

Willits said the child has recovered, and had only minimal medical needs.

“Of course, the parents did not condone the actions of the aunt,” he added.

Reports of children left alone increasing

Willits said EPS currently average about one call per day about a child left alone in a vehicle, up from the four to five calls per week EPS more typically received in the past.

“Our main message here is you cannot leave you children unsupervised … kids can get themselves in harm’s way and require medical assistance,” Willits said.

“Children are wandering away from vehicles, we see kids getting into medical distress, requiring aid… but also the big part for us is ... when you can’t see your child, you can’t protect them.”

In addition to health concerns over temperature and lack of supervision, Willits also warned that there are people who would take advantage of a child left alone.

'When you can’t see your child, you can’t protect them.'- Sgt. Gary Willets, EPS Child At Risk Response Team

For instance, he said, in both cases this week, concerned individuals were able to get to the children in question by reaching in and unlocking the doors.

“Luckily, these were citizens that were able to step forward and provide aid and had the right motivation in mind. However, the concern is… we’ve had abductions in the past, we’ve had children fall into harms way. So we’re pleading with parents to get this message [across].”

And, he warned, Edmonton officers are only going to get tougher on guardians who leave their children unsupervised.

“There’s no room for any give here,” he said, adding that police response to such reports will range from issuing warnings to laying criminal charges.

“Most people play the odds, ‘oh, nothing will happen to my child,’ but we know in the end, the odds don’t play in our favour.”

Willits said charges have been laid against 16 people who left children alone in vehicles since the spring.