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Law Enforcement Questioning Legality Of St. Joseph Co. Juvenile Offenders Release Program
Updated May 9, 2016 6:27 AM | Filed under: Crime
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(SOUTH BEND) - Local law enforcement officials are questioning the legality of a longtime practice in St. Joseph County that allows the release of juvenile offenders on the scene.

A point system used by the Juvenile Justice Center has been determining which youths can be taken into custody for more than 20 years. But some law enforcement departments, including South Bend and St. Joseph County, argue that probable cause should be used instead.

WSBT-TV launched an investigation after six kids who were initially detained on suspicion of vandalism and theft were released because the point system determined they didn't qualify for juvenile jail.

According to police, when a child commits what would be a crime if he or she was an adult, the child is detained by officers. The officers must call an intake worker at the Juvenile Justice Center, who uses the point system to determine whether the child should be released, released with a promise to appear in court form, or detained, and then the officers must do what the intake worker tells them.

South Bend Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski said he believes officers should take youths who are suspected of a crime based on probable cause to the Juvenile Justice Center, where an intake officer will then make the decision of whether or not to hold them.

Ruszkowski said he's concerned that the point system threatens an officer's credibility and the public's safety.

"Officers don't want to put handcuffs on anyone, juveniles especially," he said. "When it comes to a point where you have to in order for the safety of the child and/or community, it's got to be done."

He said "something disastrous could happen" if the county doesn't take action now.

Judge James Fox, who presides over St. Joseph County's Probate Court, said the point system is being re-evaluated and a new detention instrument is being developed.

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