Runaway teens; Detectives take problem seriously

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 8, 1998

By Leonard Gray / L’Observateur / June 8, 1998

ST. ROSE – Wayward youths are the focus of detectives in the JuvenileDivision of the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office. They deal witheverything from runaways to violent children and victims of neglect and abuse.

Two detectives, Pat Baudoin and Warren Deville, explain the runaway problem is always taken seriously, even though the majority are found within hours of the initial report.

Baudoin, 40, is a native of St. James Parish and worked nine years as a 9-1-1 dispatcher before joining the Sheriff’s Office 14 years ago and the Juvenile Division six years ago. She has three children and one grandchild.Deville, 30, is a native of Jefferson Parish who formerly worked as a security officer at Waterford 3, then became a reserve deputy and then a full-time deputy. He has three children.Every report of a runaway juvenile is immediately added to the National Crime Information Computer system, which links police departments across the nation, exchanging information on fugitives, stolen vehicles and other vital information.

“We’re mandated to, automatically,” Baudoin affirmed. “It’s easier to takeit off later than come back and put it in after a few days.”While every runaway case is taken seriously, though, a greater urgency to find the child is added if evidence is developed that the child is in danger of some sort. A very young child, for example, is considered to be ingreater danger than a juvenile in his late teen-age years.

“If the runaway is above the age of 13, one officer usually handles it,” she said. “If he’s younger, everyone physically searches for the child. Ofcourse, they’re all serious.”She continued, “Ninety-seven percent of those who run away come back,” and added it’s the remainder who keep her working long, late hours. Also,at least half of all juvenile runaways are repeaters, doing it more than once.

What makes a child run away from home? Sometimes, they are in fear of their parents, who might be abusing them.

There may be substance abuse involved. There could be romantic notions ofrunning away with a boyfriend or girlfriend or hiding with friends.

“Communication is a big problem with lots of kids,” Baudoin said, and added many runaway children feel they cannot talk with their parents and choose to deal with their problems by trying to run away from them.

Deville noted, “We check friends, known hangouts, relatives to whom they may run. A lot of times, teen-agers don’t want to be found. Kids willprotect kids.”One example was an east bank teen-age girl who ran away to friends in Metairie and was missing for several weeks. When she was found, she hadalso become pregnant.

If a child is reported to have run away, the first-responder officer will come to the parents and complete a form which provides investigators with helpful, basic information. Physical descriptions and clothingdescriptions are taken, of course. Information on known friends andhangouts, if the child has run away before and an evaluation of the home environment is equally important.

“We may not get complete honesty,” Baudoin said, as the parents could be the reason for the child’s absence, deliberate or not.

Other clues may include changes in friends, musical tastes, dress style and behavior. The officers will look for computer files, diaries, journalsand school notebooks which may include information of a private nature but which could indicate the whereabouts of the missing child.

Children may be fleeing what they perceive to be unreasonable discipline or may be fleeing an abusive situation. Peer pressure is also a factor insome runaway situations.

“Kids think, why can’t I?” Baudoin said. “They can’t be expected tounderstand the parents’ point of view.”During 1997, there were 43 runaway cases in St. Charles Parish. This year,so far, there have been 16 cases. However, the recovery record in findingrunaways is excellent. “In five years, we’ve never had a case with a veryyoung child not found within hours,” Baudoin said.

She continued, “Sheriff (Greg) Champagne’s administration is wonderful.

We have a wide berth with runaways. We’re told to call for whatever weneed.”After a child is recovered, return to the parents is not automatic. Thechild is interviewed extensively about the cause of his running away and sometimes the child is placed in state custody rather than being returned to the parents.

One problem, however, is adequate housing for juveniles, of which Louisiana is sorely lacking.

Child abductions are more frequent than most suppose, with abductions by divorced parents on the rise. “The system here is not yet up to full speedin handling these cases,” Baudoin said.

One problem is that custody papers need to be filed with the local clerk of court to be able to prove custody, so when a child is abducted it’s quicker and easier to establish proper custody.

She recalled one recent case where a 15-year-old girl was abducted by her step-father and raped repeatedly before she was recovered. That child nowis a college student preparing to become a schoolteacher.

Baudoin used a personal incident to point out how quickly and easily a child may be abducted. Once, she said, she was driving on the interstatehighway and stopped at a reststop to change a diaper of her 1-year-old grandchild.

She turned her back for a moment to wash her hands and, when she turned again, a strange, drunken woman had picked up the infant and was headed out the door.

“She said she was going to show him to her boyfriend,” Baudoin recalled.

“Things happen in that split-second.”Getting back to the topic of runaways, Deville said runaway teen-agers are a problem. “They have just enough intelligence to be dangerous.”He added they think they know much more than they really do and have no real knowledge of life “out there.”Deville said, “The child can be lonely, if he’s not getting attention or direction, and might drift off.” He continued the current social situationwith two working parents has created the problem of children not getting enough attention from their parents.

She continued, “From age 14 to 18, they ‘re from a different planet. Itstarts at home, it really does.”

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