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
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 and custody reports,
and I'll sign them for you."
Oops. What incident and custody reports was he
Even though I was still quite new, I'd written a few
juvenile custody reports. 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.
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 criticised by another police
officer for doing anything correctly, don't ever place
any trust in that officer 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
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
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.
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."
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
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, because a person you've arrested
is under your total control. In other words, the so
called "mother's decision" becomes "your"
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 criminal act. However, by virtue of
his age, my control over him made his continuing
welfare my responsibility.
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
The incident I described occurred well over thirty
years ago, but 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.
While your power to take a juvenile into your
custody has not diminished over time, 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.
Let's look at a common mistake police officers have
made in the past and continue to make today:
"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."
~ Barry M. Baker
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 ask me to assist him in contacting his parents
since he'd spent all of his money and didn't even
have a dime (yes, a dime...that's how long ago this
incident occurred) for a pay phone.
|Copyright © 2019 Barry M. Baker