Detective Lieutenant Barry M. Baker (ret.) is a 32 year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department
A juvenile custody report is required every time a juvenile comes into your custody for any reason; lost child to murder suspect. I was still a brand new police officer when I was detailed to direct traffic at a Baltimore Orioles’ baseball game. As the traffic flow was returning to normal following the end of the game, I was about to leave the assignment when I was approached by an 11 year old boy.
The boy was an intelligent and obviously well-adjusted young man who’d simply gotten separated from a group that had attended the baseball game. He asked me to assist him in contacting his parents. He’d spent all of his money at the game, and he didn’t even have a dime for a pay phone. Yes, a dime, that’s how long ago this incident occurred.
Parents were on the Way
The young boy resided a considerable distance outside the city, so I transported him to a nearby police district station (not my own) where I placed a call to his home. The appreciative parents were on their way, but it would be about 45 minutes before their arrival.
I got the kid a cold soda, and we sat down in the station’s roll call room where I went about catching up on my activity sheet. Shortly thereafter, a sergeant walked into the roll call room. He came over to me and asked, “What do you have, officer?” I explained the circumstances, and the sergeant smiled and nodded. The sergeant then stated, “Give me your incident report and juvenile custody report and I’ll sign them for you.”
Juvenile Custody Report Required
Even though I was still quite new, I’d written a juvenile custody report. However, up to now, all the incidents had involved neglect, abuse, or criminal conduct. It simply hadn’t occurred to me by the benign circumstances of this incident that this boy was, in fact, in my custody.
Although I would never again have contact with this particular sergeant, I never forgot his name. Sergeant Stine gave me a polite and concise refresher course on reporting requirements. It was all very simple. The incident was “Lost Child” on a Miscellaneous Incident Report, and the Juvenile Custody Report, with the same incident title, accompanied the MI report.
In this incident, the moment I placed that young boy into my radio car, I’d taken physical custody of him. True, he was not neglected, abused, and he’d committed no crime. However, by virtue of his age, my control over him made his continuing welfare my responsibility and a juvenile custody report was required.
You’ll Take Custody of Juveniles under Many Circumstances
You’ll frequently take custody of juveniles under any number of circumstances. Your police department will have some kind of reporting procedure to document your custody and the final disposition of the juvenile. Don’t make the mistake of viewing such reporting requirements as unnecessary under any circumstances.
The incident I described occurred fifty years ago. The Baltimore Police Department was well ahead of the times by its attention to the importance of documenting a police officer’s interaction with juveniles. Time and society’s increased attention to incidents involving juveniles has made documenting police custody of juveniles more important than ever. The juvenile custody report is the core of that documentation.
Your power to take a juvenile into your custody has not diminished over time. However, your power to release a juvenile from your custody on your own authority has diminished considerably. When your custody is a result of allegations of neglect or abuse, you’ll most probably be required to seek direction from a governmental agency such as a department of social services.
Mistakes of the Past Continue Today with Juvenile Custody Reports
You respond to a residence to serve an arrest warrant on Ms Smith for an accusation of theft. Ms Smith is alone in the residence except for her 2 year old infant.
Since the infant obviously cannot accompany the mother to jail, you must ensure the child’s welfare. The child’s father is not available, and you learn that the father does not even reside at the residence. Are you beginning to sense the importance of a juvenile custody report?
Ms Smith asks that the child be placed in the custody of her next door neighbor until she returns. Here’s where a lot of police officers will do just that. The neighbor seems decent enough. She shows concern, and she gladly takes custody of the child.
Here’s how some cops think. Ms Smith will likely be out of jail shortly after booking and her interview before a court commissioner. As long as everything goes the way it’s supposed to go, and the child receives competent care, no harm will come from your incorrect handling of the child’s custody.
On the other hand, if any harm comes to that child during the mother’s absence, you’ll be in a world of hurt. When it comes to children — particularly helpless infants — you must never short cut or take anything for granted. What if the mother doesn’t get out of jail? What if the neighbor is a “Crack” addict who lives with a convicted sex offender? There can be a lot of “what ifs.”
The Mother Made the Decision
Even after reading what I’ve just described, there are some police officers who just don’t get it. Their standard defense would be, “The mother made the decision.” They fail to see that writing a juvenile custody report and completing the associated tasks will avoid bad outcomes.
Okay…let’s break this down. Until you showed up, the infant was in the mother’s custody. You have an arrest warrant which places the mother into your custody. It should be obvious that the arrest of the mother has removed her custody and control over the infant. The “mother made the decision” defense won’t fly since a person you arrest can’t make decisions. A person you’ve arrested is under your total control. In other words, the so called “mother’s decision” becomes “your” decision.
In this scenario, the correct procedure would be to contact the appropriate agency to determine the disposition of the infant. It’s quite possible that the social worker, following an interview, inspection, etc., may well approve the next door neighbor in this example. Let’s say you handled this incident correctly, and the social worker approves the next door neighbor.
You could well have another police officer chastise you for wasting time, because the end result would have been the same with a lot less effort. Whenever you’re criticized by another police officer for doing anything correctly, don’t ever place any trust in that officer’s advice in the future.
Writing a juvenile custody report and making any required notifications isn’t any different from preparing other reports. Like other reporting, it’s a matter of knowing when a juvenile custody report is required.
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