CNJ illustration: Sharna Johnson The majority of runaway Clovis teens are just kids acting out with every intention of returning home, according to police.
By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer
Almost every other day, Clovis police take a missing persons report on missing teens, but the majority of the time the reports turn out to be false alarms, according to Capt. Patrick Whitney.
Panicked parents discover their child’s bed empty in the middle of the night, find that the youth misled them about where they were going to be, or a teen storms out of the house after a show down, he said.
“(We get those calls) constantly, constantly,” he said. “The greater majority, they’re being disobedient to their parents and they just leave and they’re really not what you would consider true runaways … they have every intention of going back home.”
About a third of runaway calls received for the last three years have resulted in a report being entered into the National Crime Information Center’s database, police records show.
Those reports are filed when a child cannot be easily located by parents or police.
Of local law enforcement agencies, the Clovis Police Department carries the bulk of the load with at least 150 reports typically filed a year.
The Curry County Sheriff’s Department said it probably filed less than 10 runaway reports last year and the district’s state police office said it rarely gets runaway calls in Curry County.
Police field the calls and try to help parents locate their teens and take the reports, but that’s really about it, Whitney said. In New Mexico there is no law against teens running away from home.
“That’s all we can do. It’s out of our hands unless they’re being abused, then we can investigate that,” Whitney said.
Police can help look for teens, and they can detain them for up to six hours if safety concerns exist. Otherwise, unless the teen engages in criminal activity or there’s evidence of abuse at home, the role of police is limited, according to Lisa Madrid with the department of Children Youth and Families.
“Law enforcement cannot detain them for just running away. It’s not a criminal act,” she said. “Attempts are made to return the child home, that’s the first step.”
But the recovery of a runaway teen may lead to referrals to juvenile probation and parole, an investigation by CYFD into possible issues in the home or even emergency custody of the child by CYFD if their safety is in question, she said.
“When children start running away that just may be one thing that they’re exhibiting,” Madrid said, “but there are generally other things going on.”
Some teens flee long-term, turning to gangs, friends or distant family members for a place to live.
But Whitney said the greater majority of youth are only gone a short time with no report needed. Often officers find them at a friend’s house or a social event, or even school the next day.
Though parents are told to call police as soon as their child is located so their information can be removed from the system, they overwhelmingly don’t.
“We usually don’t even find out they’re back until they get in trouble at school” he said, “and the resource officer finds out they’re on the runaway list.”
At an average of more than 10 reports taken per month this year, the numbers actually show a reduction of around 30 percent from last year.
Whitney credits multi-agency cooperation as a reason for the down-turn.
“A lot more of the organizations are working together that all have some piece of the pie in with dealing with juveniles,” he said.
With teams made up of juvenile and adult Probation and Parole, school, law enforcement and CYFD discussing at risk youth and trying to intervene and provide resources to attack issues like delinquency, truancy and core problems that place youth at risk, a reduction in runaways is a positive side-effect, he said.
By the numbers:
• 2008 — 96 reports taken out of 326 calls (through Sept. 30)
• 2007 — 182 reports taken out of 523 calls
• 2006 — 154 reports taken out of 471 calls
Source: CPD records