Spike in police calls to youth home challenges community

West Liberty school says it saves lives, helps children in need.

Police calls to a local residential youth facility spiked 175 percent last year — leading some neighbors to worry about their safety and frustrating the chief that it’s a burden on resources.

But the Adriel School in West Liberty contends it serves children in need, many of whom have suffered abuse, and it said the students need help, not punishment.

And the county prosecutor said it’s difficult and costly to pursue many of the police cases involving Adriel students in court.

Communities often grapple with how to treat and house troubled youth while also balancing a community’s concerns, Wittenberg University Sociology Professor Brooke Wagner said.

“Once community members fears are raised, they will support creating stricter rules for delinquent youth and give more power to authority in order to better protect the community” she said. “However, this often leads to stereotyping and unjustly labeling youths based on their race, ethnicity, and social class; causing stigma and dividing the community.”

Not a ‘detention center’

Adriel School was founded as a Mennonite children’s home in 1896. The full-service educational and residential facility houses about 50 kids, ages 6 years to 21 years old. That includes children in the state foster care system, some who have been through juvenile detention and those with developmental disabilities.

It is 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.

“We save lives here,” she said.

The school trains its teacher and staff on the teaching family model that says behavior is learned and new behaviors can be learned.

“Our kids are going to make mistakes. We can’t get it right every time. Everything we do is a judgment call,” Wyse said.

The school isn’t allowed to restrain students by law, unless they pose an immediate threat to themselves or another person. It also can’t lock its doors or stop a teen from leaving, Wyse said, even if he or she has a suitcase packed and walks out at midnight.

The school also has no custodial rights over the children. The students are wards of the county, which sends the children to the school.

“It’s not a locked facility and a lot people may think it should be, but it is not,” Wyse said.

Calls to police way up

West Liberty police received 302 calls for service at the Adriel School in 2013. That’s up from 110 in 2012 and 158 in 2011.

The school is the No. 1 location for police calls in the village, West Liberty Police Chief Shane Oelker said.

The department arrested five students between March 20 and 24 for assaults and disorderly conduct

Runaway students puts a lot of stress on the police department’s resources, Oelker said. In a 24-hour time span in October, eight Adriel students were taken into custody for running away and three more for disorderly conduct.

“It is the most taxing on our resources because we have to go look for these kids,” he said.

The Logan County Sheriff’s Office and Ohio State Highway Patrol often assist in the search efforts, Oelker said, but those agencies have cases of their own to work on.

When children leave, Wyse said they are required to report them missing to police. The majority of the time the teens are found on the campus or return to campus eventually, she said.

“Most of the time they just need to run off steam,” Wyse said.

However, if the student is not found within two hours the police must report it as a missing child.

The West Liberty Police Department has one or two officers out on patrol at all times. With a call a day from the school on average, Oelker said it limits the officer’s ability to serve the entire community. Sometimes an officer’s entire shift is spent dealing with Adriel students.

Some neighbors said the school is a safety concern. Wendy LeVan, who lives next to the Adriel School, is scared to let her children play outside.

“When I grew up we could play outside all day long and not have to have our parents monitor what we were doing. My kids are not able to do that,” LeVan said.

Most communities are safe from juveniles, Wagner said.

“The crimes committed by youth tend to be of a smaller magnitude, and occur less often than crimes by adults. In fact, many youths are detained for committing behaviors that are only illegal because of their age,” she said.

Adriel’s other residential facilities are located in larger urban settings like Columbus and Toledo. Oelker said a call a day to a police force with 100 officers out on the street isn’t nearly as taxing as it to a patrol force of one.

The police chief wants changes at the residential facility for troubled youth located on the Logan/Champaign County line.

“The thing that angers me the most, is that there are no consequences for these kid’s actions, because if the consequences were severe enough, we would not be responding there for the same kids over and over again,” Oelker said. “Adriel doesn’t want us to charge them, because they say it doesn’t help them. The prosecutors office’s hands are tied because they can’t do a lot with it. It’s just a big circle.”

Few prosecutions

Few cases are prosecuted, in part because of the costs to the county, Logan County Prosecutor William Goslee said.

Most Adriel students qualify for state-appointed defense attorneys, which cost $600 at a minimum. Most cases also require a mental health evaluation, which costs another $600. Add to that the administrative fees and the costs associated with the prosecutor working on the case.

Even if more of the cases were prosecuted and a student was found guilty, Goslee said, he or she would likely return to the school.

The prosecutor’s office usually sees about one or two Adriel cases a week. The charges are typically running away, unruly behavior or minor property crimes. Those crimes are usually not prosecuted, Goslee said, and are expected to be handled internally at Adriel.

The cases that are prosecuted are crimes that endanger people, he said, and not just property.

“We owe it to the community to bring those kids to the attention of the courts,” Goslee said.

One of those cases that the Logan County Prosecutor’s Office pursued concerned a 15-year-old female Adriel student who stole a car on Dec. 7 and had been returned to the school.

She then allegedly stole Mark Meeker’s car on Dec. 26 and led officers on a three-county chase. The girl was eventually stopped and arrested by deputies from the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office.

Franklin County deputies were unaware that a Champaign County arrest warrant had been issued for her and released her back to Adriel. Champaign County deputies didn’t know she had been released.

“When does she stopping coming back here? When does Adriel start monitoring her closer?” said Meeker, who lives near the school.

The girl posed little threat and was remorseful, Wyse said.

“She came back, got a second chance and she didn’t make the best choices there after. Everybody is sorry about that, including her,” Wyse said. “I don’t regret bringing her back. I regret any damage or harm, because we did that. But she is a child and the best decision we could make on the spot was she deserves a second chance and we can give her that as well as anyone else can.”

Wyse explained when officers returned the student she was watched more closely.

“We try to very calmly, with a calm voice and no hovering, keep an eye on our kids,” she said.

A student’s consequences are based off of individual treatment plans.

Therapists and counselors also met with her to find out the reason why she ran away and stole the cars. Their goal was to figure out how they could manage the situation better the next time, not punitive measures, Wyse said.

Punishing the students would be counter productive to the work the school is doing, she said, and most of the Adriel’s children have endured of lot of abuse or emotional damage

“Kids who’ve been traumatized are more traumatized when there manhandled, when they are yelled at and when there is police involvement … We are trying to undo some of the damage done to them,” Wyse said.

Wagner, the Wittenberg sociologist, said finding the root cause is the best way to prevent future run-ins with the law.

“Unfortunately, there is no magical treatment for delinquent and criminal youth. The best way to curb juvenile crime is to prevent it; so understanding why it occurs is the first step any community needs to take,” she said.

Needed ministry

David Maurer lives across the street from the Adriel School and is the pastor at Bethel Mennonite Church. His family feels safe, he said, and doesn’t worry about letting their children play outside.

He argues the rural setting of West Liberty is a great place for the treatment facility. He said a smaller town gives the community more opportunities to get involved, gives most of the youth a change of environment, and lets them heal and grow to become contributing members of society.

“It is really a needed ministry within our county and our state for those kids who are falling between the cracks and don’t really have a place to go to,” Maurer said.

Adriel students were just recently volunteers of the month at the Green Hills Retirement facility in West Liberty.

Peggy Hanna of Springfield has worked with foster kids her entire life.

“We always had four or five foster kids in and out of our house,” she said.

She adopted the last four foster children she had. Two of them were biological brothers who suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome. The brothers both got in trouble as teenagers and entered into different residential facilities.

One of them was charged with arson, spent some time in prison and then Adriel before coming home. The attention and care the boy got at Adriel changed his actions, Hanna said.

“They were wonderful,” she said. “Changed his life for the better.”

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