AUSTINTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Juvenile runaways are a widespread problem in Ohio.
Since Jan. 1, the Youngstown Police Department has taken 307 runaway reports. Right now, only 36 are active cases, but police officers want to get the message across that harboring kids who have left their parent or legal guardian is a crime.
Youngstown Police Lt. Brian Flynn said adults who knowingly harbor runaway kids could face several charges, including interference with custody and contributing to unruliness or delinquency of a child. The offenses are misdemeanors, but the penalties could add up.
“It is not worth the trouble. It is not worth getting a criminal record, possibly getting incarcerated for up to six months and getting a $1,000 fine. It is not worth it,” Flynn said.
Flynn expects that by the end of this year, Youngstown police will have taken more than 500 runaway reports.
“It is all across the state of Ohio. Every department that we called looking for a maybe a little steering in the right direction to fix the problem is having the exact same problem we are having,” he said.
The Austintown Police Department is cracking down on the problem as well.
“And we have charged and we will continue to charge adults if we determine they have been harboring juvenile runaways,” Austintown Police Detective Sgt. Jeffrey Toth said.
Flynn said each day a person houses a runaway is considered a separate offense.
“Adults need to be aware of children who want to stay at their residence. They need to contact the parent or guardian of that person,” Toth said.
Toth and Flynn said if an adult thinks a child may be staying with them because of an unsettled, or even abusive, situation at home, they need to contact the police so it can be handled the right way.