Wednesday, October 17, 2001
Top Juvenile Judge Recommends Discretion in Calling Police to MacLaren
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
The presiding judge of the county’s juvenile court yesterday recommended that staff members at MacLaren Children’s Center be allowed discretion on whether to involve police in disturbances after reports of a high number of arrests at the facility.
“We have a problem, and I include the court in the we,” Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Terry Friedman told the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
The judge presented recommendations on how to decrease the number of arrests of dependent children staying at MacLaren, the county-run home of last resort for children suffering from abuse, neglect, mental illness and prenatal drug exposure.
“We want to prevent arrests ... and bring a rationale and consistency in decision-making” on when to alert the El Monte Police Department, Friedman said.
Friedman acknowledged that it is not usually the court’s role to generate reports, but that this was a special circumstance.
“These issues are ones that are affecting the operation of the court and the children who are dependents of the court,” he said.
Last year El Monte police received 588 calls from the public, 477 of which were from MacLaren. In the first seven months of this year, the police department received 308 calls from MacLaren, 111 of them for assault-related incidents.
Of the 308 calls, only 47 were referred to the district attorney and charges were filed in 37 cases.
Besides arrests, Friedman said the juvenile court system is bulging with cases involving children accused of some kind of assault or making terrorist threats. Some of the cases border on the ridiculous and are quickly dismissed, he said.
Friedman said a 4-foot-10, 80-pound, 13-year-old boy was accused of battering a staff member at MacLaren. The staff member turned out to be 6 feet tall, weighed 250 pounds and the paramedics were called to the center to treat injuries the boy received in the scuffle, he said.
Friedman also said children with severe mental health problems or histories of abuse or violence are not being given the special treatment they require.
“Our services just don’t meet the severity of the problem,” Friedman said. “These are throwaway kids. I hate to use that term, but a lot of these kids have been completely neglected by their parents.”
“We need to try to do for them what we would do for our own children,” Friedman said.
When children are taken from their parents and made wards of the court, the county is responsible for placing them in group homes or in foster care. When no space is available or when youngsters prove too disruptive for group homes, they are sent to MacLaren as a temporary home.
Friedman said that the “difficult population” at MacLaren and the fact that the center is housing more children than it was ever intended to are some of the biggest problems facing the facility.
Some children return to MacLaren more than a dozen times, even after they turn 18. And the facility has been subject to lawsuits alleging physical abuse of children by MacLaren staff.
A multi-agency task force led by Friedman met four times earlier this year. Its recommendations include better early intervention with problem children; more collaboration and discretion by law enforcement agencies; a protocol for pre-arrest and post-arrest activities; and more training and staff collaboration on crisis intervention.
“If an individual staff member wants to call the police, the [recommended] protocol doesn’t prevent them,” Friedman said. “It’s when the institution decides to do so, we want designated staff members on-site to make informed decisions on whether to call police.”
Supervisors agreed to have staff review the recommendations and bring the issue back before the board in three weeks.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company