I-Team 8

Indianapolis neighbors, police say kids are escaping a psychiatric treatment center

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — An Indianapolis neighborhood is on edge after a string of break-ins. But these aren’t part of some normal run-of-the-mill crime spree. A local woman says troubled teens from a nearby psychiatric treatment center are to blame. Police confirm the teens are runaways from the center who, somehow, keep getting out.

Jane Smith is scared for herself and for her neighbors. She said the teens are using a vacant house as their hangout. From the street, the house looks like any other home in her neighborhood. But she walked around the property with I-Team 8, showing us what she said is evidence of the kids’ break-ins.

“They tried to pry in all the screens,” said Smith, pointing out the bend frame on the window screens.

“(You) can see where they had kicked the door in,” she said, gesturing to a shoe print on the door.

Smith said in the middle of September, she started seeing kids she had not seen before around the southeast Indianapolis neighborhood.

“Everybody’s on edge around here and we don’t have crime in here,” said Smith.

Smith said the kids are from Resource Residential Treatment Facility located south of Fountain Square at 1404 S. State Ave.

She said they break out, walk to her neighborhood, and hang out in the empty house. She said the teens broke down a wall in the center and got out. Smith also said that the police said “that they get calls there on a continuous basis, like four or five times a day.”

“Everybody’s on edge around here and we don’t have crime in here.”

Records from the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department show 10 calls to that vacant house just since September 14.

“They broke into my son’s truck and took a key fob,” Smith said.

Police told I-Team 8 they handcuff the kids to take them back to Resource Residential Treatment Facility, but that’s not the end of the issue.

“They were back, they broke out four hours later, they were back the next morning,” Smith said.

IMPD records show Resource employees meet up with officers to get the runaways and bring them back to the facility. Police records also show the kids pull the fire alarms in the facility, so the doors will unlock and they can get out.

I-Team 8 went through data from the Indianapolis Fire Department. In six months, they were called to Resource 37 times.

I-Team 8 reached out to Resource Residential Treatment Center, which calls itself a “life-changing psychiatric residential treatment facility for children and young adults.” They denied multiple requests for interviews, instead sending the following statement:

We are proud of our long history of providing care to our patients and their families in highly structured treatment programs. Our health care professionals are committed to ensuring the physical and emotional wellbeing of our patients. Due to federal and state patient privacy and confidentiality laws, we cannot comment on any specific patient or alleged incidents.”

However, data from IMPD shows calls not just to Smith’s neighborhood, but also to the center itself. January through September of 2017, IMPD got almost 90 calls for runaways from Resource. Sometimes, police reported there were “multiple,” or “several” runaways, or even habitual runaways. But taking the kids back to the center does not seem solve the problem.

“They take them back to…the resource center and they do whatever they do to get out of there,” Smith said.

And she is not only worried about her safety at home.

“You’ve got the police department that have a ton of stuff to do and you’re taking them away to go and reprimand these juveniles,” she said. “So I think the resource center needs to find a way to secure this area, to secure these adults that have to take care of them.”

I-Team 8 talked with the Department of Child Services. DCS cannot speak specifically about this facility, so we asked about runaways.

“Most of the time they’ll contact law enforcement and let them know because obviously a child running away is a huge safety concern,” said Stephanie Shene, Communications Coordinator with DCS.

I-Team 8 asked what would happen if there were a significant number of runaway calls for one facility. DCS said it is “absolutely” something it would look into.

However, DCS cannot tell us if they’re looking into the number of runaways from Resource.

Until something changes or the vacant house gets rented, Smith and her neighbors will worry about the kids safety and their own.

“If these kids need help, we got to figure out a better system,” said Smith. “It’s just like a vicious circle, we keep going around with these kids.”

IMPD said “the Southeast district is working with Resource and the state to solve this issue.”

MORE I-TEAM 8 STORIES

Hamilton County’s ‘Wellness Unit’ part of nationwide effort to improve mental health among officers

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. (WISH) — An initiative to improve employee well-being at the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office is among a spate of efforts across the nation to address mental health concerns among officers.

Sheriff Dennis Quakenbush announced the department’s new “Wellness Unit”  — devoted to the physical, mental and spiritual health of its deputies, correctional officers and civilian employees — Friday in a Facebook post.

“Our guys really care about the public,” he said Monday in an interview with News 8. “When you see somebody who’s injured or victimized, it really impacts us… We’re only human.”

The Wellness Unit launched in January with funding approved by county council members and commissioners.

Appointments are held off-site at undisclosed locations to protect the privacy of employees. Supervisors are not briefed on which employees seek counseling or what they discuss during sessions.

Information gathered during counseling sessions will not be used to demote or discipline employees, and will only be disclosed if required by law, including when somebody poses an immediate danger to themselves or others.

The department’s entire staff will receive training related to suicide prevention, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, critical incidents, addiction, mindfulness and officer wellness, the sheriff said.

Nearly 1 in 4 police officers has thoughts of suicide at some point in their life, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI); the suicide rate for police officers is four times higher than the rate for firefighters.

Years of daily exposure to stress, trauma and tragedy can have other devastating consequences if appropriate coping skills are not developed, according to Susan Sherer-Vincent, a licensed clinical social worker, certified alcoholism counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist involved in launching the Wellness Unit.

“Think of the hurricanes that come in, in Florida, and think of the palm trees where they bend,” she explained. “But then, what happens afterwards? They go back up. That’s called resilience. We want our officers to bend, not break.”

Until approximately 3 to 5 years ago, officers were often conditioned to “pull [themselves] up by the bootstraps and go to the next call” instead of addressing personal struggles, Sherer-Vincent said.

Cultivating resiliency can be difficult within a law enforcement culture that equates mental health challenges with “weakness,” she said.

“[Officers] are trained to have the warrior mentality,” Sherer-Vincent told News 8. “Truly, they would have been made fun of [in the past for seeking counseling].”

She compared strong, silent officers with underdeveloped coping skills to California’s famed redwood trees.

“They’re pretty sturdy. But what would happen if you took an ax and hit those every single day, day after day, for years? They would eventually fall,” she said.

Quakenbush credits his wife, church and non-law enforcement friends with providing “a really good support system.”

“But sometimes, you need a professional,” he said, urging employees to “talk through” negative emotions instead of turning to alcohol and other substances for temporary relief.

Several internal cases that resulted in disciplinary action during his year-long tenure as sheriff may have been prevented with wellness-focused intervention, Quakenbush said.

He was unable to comment on personnel matters. 

Sources within the department indicated some of the cases involved employees with substance abuse issues that had escalated over time, possibly as a result of work-related stress that had gone unaddressed. 

“I wouldn’t say that [disciplinary action] was happening often,” Quakenbush told News 8. “But seeing it happen and knowing that we probably could have done something about it made it impactful and something that we wanted to make a priority.”

Hamilton County announced its Wellness Unit days after New York City police officials revealed plans to hire a team of psychologists to combat a spike in officer suicides.

On Feb. 13, Indianapolis police officials said they planned to swear in the department’s first full-time therapy dog by the end of March.

  • FIND SUPPORT: Learn more about supporting law enforcement wellness on NAMI.org

MORE STORIES

LIKE US ON FACEBOOK