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Pattern of Problems, Runaways Reported at Gary Teen Treatment Center – NBC Chicago

Since 2012, Gary police have responded nearly 400 times to reports of fights, disturbances, missing persons or runaways from the Crisis Center, a residential treatment center for adolescents in Gary, Indiana — an investigation found of several months conducted by NBC 5 Investigates.

NBC 5’s investigations found that nearly half of those calls for service — more than 200 — were for missing people or runaway teens, a figure authorities acknowledge is likely an underestimate.

As part of our investigation, NBC 5 Investigates requested and reviewed 10 years of police trips to the facility as well as 911 audio and several hours of body camera footage since Gary police began use the cameras this summer.

Records revealed recurring problems at the facility.

In 2023 alone, 24 missing or runaway people were reported to the Crisis Center.

And the recordings themselves were revealing – police can be heard expressing their frustrations on their body cameras – including a sergeant who called the Crisis Center a “useless facility” and another officer who can be heard saying that it was “hard”.

The Crisis Center welcomes children aged 12 to 20 for temporary and long-term care. According to its website, children can be referred to the facility through the Indiana Department of Child Services and the state’s juvenile justice system. Others have problems at home or have already fled.

During a conversation with workers, a Gary police sergeant can be heard saying, “I’m not trying to be funny, but what are you doing here?”

His remark came as officers were there to write a runaway report, but workers wanted officers to lecture an unruly teenager in the next room.

Police records raise questions about activities inside the facility and how children behave and are supervised.

Although some police reports and body camera footage reference the return of teenagers, the records do not specify how often this happened, how quickly the teenagers were picked up or if there were any cases in which children remained missing.

The facility’s executive director did not agree to an on-camera interview and did not respond to these questions.

The Indiana Department of Child Services spokesperson did not respond to questions from NBC 5 Investigates about whether DCS was aware of the number of children who have run away over the past decade . NBC 5 Investigates filed a public records request to find out. This request is still pending.

Online records show that over the past decade, the Crisis Center has signed contracts with Indiana state agencies like DCS, worth a total of more than $5 million, according to the state’s online contracting portal.

The facility’s executive director, Marion Collins, did not respond to follow-up questions from NBC 5 Investigates about the large number of incidents or the facility’s efforts to respond to those incidents.

In an emailed statement, Collins had this to say:

“The Crisis Center is a non-profit organization located in Gary, IN. We have been providing youth services since the 1970s. We prioritize the safety and well-being, physical and emotional, of our clients. The Crisis Center is an emergency shelter for at-risk youth. We provide shelter, food, care, therapeutic and educational services to at-risk youth ages 12-20 who have run away from home, been displaced from their home, or are removed from their home by the ministry from childhood. Services (DCS) or children placed through the juvenile probation system.

We are a licensed, open residential emergency shelter that provides a therapeutic, trauma-informed care environment for our children. As such, children are not in custody or detention at the Crisis Center. Our Crisis Center staff is CPI (Crisis Prevention Institute) certified. CPI is evidence-based training in de-escalation and crisis prevention. CPI is designed to change behaviors by reducing conflict for the care, well-being, safety and security of our clients while using a crisis prevention approach. It is our policy for the safety of our children if a child runs away from our shelter and leaves our property that we immediately call the local police to ensure they can be located as quickly as possible and returned safely to our establishment.

We cannot discuss details regarding a particular resident or situation in order to maintain the confidentiality of our clients.

A mother’s worry

Over Labor Day weekend, Gary police body camera footage shows officers searching for — but not finding — a 17-year-old fugitive named Alexx.

In an interview in late September, Alexx’s mother, Crystel Myers, told NBC 5 Investigates that her son wandered away from the facility over Labor Day weekend, but was not discovered until three days.

And it was his family – not the police – who ultimately found Alexx wandering the streets of Gary.

“I was very upset and I was demanding answers and I was calling and calling and calling…” Crystel Myers said during her interview with NBC 5 Investigates.

(Reporter’s note: Crystel Myers died in November while NBC 5 Investigates was still researching this story. Her family made it clear they wanted her story shared.)

Alexx’s journey to the Crisis Center began after a series of incidents at his home in Greenfield, Indiana, that ultimately left him in the custody of the Indiana Department of Child Services.

“He tried to stab me a year and a half ago, when I was 15. So he had to stay with his father. I understand again, my reality is not something everyone understands. But again, I don’t have to approve of it, I just have to accept it,” Myers said at the time of our interview.

Myer’s sister confirmed she witnessed the incident and Greenfield police acknowledged an escape to Crystel’s home involving a minor in 2022, but did not provide further details.

At the time of our interview, Crystel told us her son had been missing for two days before she was notified, prompting her family to drive more than three hours from outside of Indianapolis to Gary.

Body camera footage captured this, too — with Gary police wondering why the facility waited nearly an hour to call them after Alexx fled.

Gary Policier: “Why are you calling him now…”

Crisis center agent: “Because we normally give them 30 minutes before calling the police. (Because) half the time they go straight to the playground and on site, when you call, they’re on site.

NBC 5’s investigations revealed that this was not an isolated case.

In another incident caught on body camera footage, police discuss another teenage girl who ran away 30 minutes after being taken from the Lake County Juvenile Detention Center.

During the conversation, Gary’s officer can be heard asking, “Was she just allowed out?”

The Crisis Center agent responded, “You said she was allowed to go out?” »

Another officer said, “Yes. I mean, she was on suicide watch??

The Crisis Center worker responds: “She was not on suicide watch here, she was on suicide watch there. Not here.

“Did you do a suicide test on her?” asked the officer.

To which the crisis center worker replied: “No, she wasn’t there long enough to do anything with her.”

NBC 5 Investigates obtained the footage through a series of public records requests that also revealed dozens of fights and disturbances.

NBC 5 Investigates has learned that Crystel’s son has been transferred to a more secure facility in Indiana where he continues to receive treatment.

For months, we have been asking to see billing records to understand how much Medicaid money is being returned to the facility.

We are told that our request is still pending.

NBC Chicago

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