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Police calls to youth center nearly double

Police have more than doubled their calls out to a local facility for foster children and troubled youth, and causing nearby residents to be concerned about their safety of their neighborhood.

Since the beginning of this year, the village of West Liberty’s police department has responded to 184 calls for service at the Adriel School on North Detroit Street. They had just 78 calls to the facility last year. In total, the facility makes up 60 percent of all police calls in the village, said Chief Shane Oelker.

Police arrested 11 juveniles between Oct. 15-16 in one of their largest responses to the facility to-date. What began as the report of a fight between children at Adriel School resulted in an 18-hour manhunt. A fire alarm was pulled during the incident, and eight children walked away from the facility, causing West Liberty police to file missing persons reports. All of the children were eventually located, but two are suspects in a theft at an Urbana gas station, according to police records.

Wendy LeVan has lived across the street from Adriel School for seven years. While she said there’s always been the occasional issue with runaways, this year she believes the problems “are escalating,” and the October incident did little to waylay her fears.

“It’s very unsettling because it shouldn’t be happening and they tell me these kids are absolutely no threat,” LeVan said. “Then why do we have to go to such means to find them?”

“They need to get the situation under control before somebody gets hurt,” she added.

Founded as a Mennonite children’s home in 1896, the full-service educational and residential facility houses about 58 kids today, ages 6 years to 21 years old. This includes children in the state foster care system, some who have been through juvenile detention, and those with developmental disabilities. Licensed by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services and accredited by the Council on Accreditation, Adriel School isn’t meant to serve as a “detention center,” said Kay Wyse, facility CEO.

When children go out of sight and sound of staff, Wyse said they are required by law to report them missing to police. The majority of the time the children are found on the campus, requiring another call to police. Wyse said this is why the department receives so many calls.

“Our first concern at times like that is the safety of the child and his or her safe return to the home,” Wyse said. “I think all the calls we make to police alarm some people in the community because they think every call to police means a danger to the community and that’s not reality.”

The campus population is constantly in flux, Wyse said, meaning once a treatment plan is developed for a child and any issues are under control, a new group of children are sent to the campus. She added that she believes the majority of their residents don’t cause any issues.

No incidents at the campus have resulted in a community member being harmed, Oelker said. However, local police have implemented a “preferred arrest” policy at Adriel School, he said, meaning if officers are called out and they find evidence of a crime they are encouraged to arrest the juvenile.

“Our feeling is if they cannot remain where they belong then we are going to transport them to the juvenile detention center, not just for their safety but (also) for the general public,” he said.

This month, Oelker said he has also started stationing an officer outside Adriel School during the shift when the most calls are received. To date, there have been only two calls for service, according to police records.

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