A visit worth a thousand words

With all the talk about early intervention after last month’s Colorado high school massacre, one usually doesn’t think about an 8-year-old. But a Calabasas father was concerned when he caught his son stealing from family pockets. He asked the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station Juvenile Intervention Team for help and brought his son to the station Friday night.

“It’s pretty rare that we deal with kids that young,” said Dep. Mark Borges, one of six Juvenile Intervention Team (“J-Team”) deputies. “He’s a smart kid. He just doesn’t realize the consequences of his actions.”

Showing the boy the consequences is exactly what Borges did. He showed him the station, including the jail, before grilling him in a conference room. The interrogation went something like this:

Borges: Why do you think these prisoners got here? Some probably stole stuff. Why do you think your dad brought you here? Is it your birthday, a special day or a party? Or did you take something from your dad?

Boy: I forgot what I took.

Borges: You should tell the truth. Was it some money?

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Boy: I didn’t see; maybe it was nickels and dimes.

Borges: To buy stuff?

Boy: I just took it because I wanted it. My brothers take my baseball cards.

Borges: Do you like that? Do your parents give you toys?

Boy: I have Nintendo.

Borges: What if I went to your house and took that, would that be good, is that right?

Boy: No, unless I had a right to it.

Borges: So taking money wasn’t good? Do you know that’s a crime? It’s called stealing. Do you know that kids who get caught stealing get put in jail.

Boy: Do they go to school?

Borges: Yes, but they’re not with their families, and it’s not a fun place.

Boy: Can you watch TV?

Borges: Yes, but only what the probation officer says. You don’t have a room to yourself. Cameras are watching you. Everyone can see you go to the bathroom. Kids have to do what the guards tell them, like scrubbing the floors with a toothbrush and cleaning toilets.

Father: Can you imagine doing that? I think you need to realize how serious this is. When you come to jail, you are all by yourself. There is no one you know. You can’t hug anyone.

Borges: It isn’t good to do anything wrong. You have to listen to your mom and dad. They’re the bosses. Think about what you did. Was it a good thing? Your mom and dad work hard; they buy you Nintendo. You can watch good TV shows. What if your mom and dad said you couldn’t play baseball because you stole? Do you understand what you did is wrong? Parents tell you to do something for a reason.

Boy: My brothers don’t listen to me, but they have to listen to parents or relatives.

Borges: Will you take stuff again?

Boy: No.

Borges: Why?

Boy: Because it’s bad.

Borges: You don’t want to talk to me again, because I’ll put you in handcuffs like these. How many kids do you know who steal stuff?

Boy: None.

Borges: Right, so you won’t have to see me again, except when I visit your school, right? I talk to the SANE [Substance Abuse Narcotics Education) deputies all the time. They won’t tell me you’re stealing, right? And you’ll do what what your parents ask you without asking why?

Boy: (Shrugs his shoulders.)

Borges: Another thing. Your dad tells me that you lied about the money.

Boy: I told my mom I found it on the floor.

Borges: It’s not good to lie, even if you do something wrong. Your parents won’t trust you. What if your parents lied to you about giving you a birthday present? So now you know two things you shouldn’t do: don’t lie and don’t steal. Those are two biggies.

After the hour-long questioning, Borges said, “Lots of kids we talk to are with the wrong peer group. Peers are a big influence around 13 or 14. Kids want strict supervision, they want someone to tell them what to do.”

Besides offering parental support and resource material, the J-Team goes to schools to interact with students at lunch and at breaks. They also lecture on topics like search and seizure. “We’re there if the kids want to vent. We want to break down tension,” Borges noted.

“Often kids will ask when police can be brought in to break up parties. Or they’ll complain about a traffic violation. We’ll try to explain from a law enforcement point of view. We want the kids to see it’s not just us against them.”

The team also meets with administrators and teachers at Malibu High and Middle schools to share information. Last Thursday, a coalition of community leaders met at Malibu High School to identify student problems, Borges said. They want to know what students need to feel safe. In future meetings, they want to come up with solutions.

Once a month, the team also teaches a “Parental Resource Program.” Parents are told about juvenile narcotics trends, and youths are given a tour of a local juvenile probation camp. The next programs are slated for June 26 and July 24.

The team also works weekend nights to talk to kids at their hangouts and monitor juvenile activity. Although Valley and Malibu teens don’t intermingle, Borges says, Malibu parents should be concerned because kids will be going to the beach soon.

For copies of parental resource materials, including a “Teen Assist” wallet card with organization names and phone numbers, and a State Bar of California booklet “Kids and the Law: An A-Z Guide for Parents,” call the J-Team at 310.456.6652 or 818.878.1808.

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