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Runaways Top Reports of Missing in Greenwich

GREENWICH, Conn. — Nearly all of the missing persons reported to the Greenwich Police Department are found, Sgt. Mark Zuccerella of the Special Victims Section says. And the majority of those reports are of runaway teens.

“Everyone thinks of ‘missing persons,’ they think of abductions. It’s a misnomer,” said Zuccerella. “It covers more than abduction and kidnapping. It’s usually runaways, and those runaways are usually kids.”

In the past 20 years, there has not been a single case of a stranger abducting a child in town, said Lt. Kraig Gray, spokesman for the police department, although there have been kidnappings. “We have two outstanding warrants, but they’re really for custodial interference charges, which are technically kidnapping. But you can’t really kidnap your own kid."

The elderly are another group that goes missing more often than adults, but those cases are still not as common as kids. “If we have three or five a year it’s a lot,” said Zuccerella.

However, since July 1, 2010, the department has received more than 50 missing person reports about kids, four of which occurred last month. “Some months you won’t have any, some months you’ll have 10,” said Zuccerella, adding numerous cases are attributed to the same child. “We try to find out why they run away. Most of the time it’s because they want to stay out late or they didn’t want to, or were afraid to tell mom ad dad they were going to be late.”

Juvenile delinquency cases in Greenwich increase in the fall, at the beginning of the school year and again during the spring. In 2011, the department received one call in January; two calls each in February, March and April; and then in May that number spiked to 10 calls. “Those 10 in May were the same two addresses that kept popping up,” said Zuccerella. “But when a child goes missing, we put out all the stops.”

In Connecticut, a child 17 or younger who runs away chronically is labeled a youth in crisis. Those 15 or younger are labeled a family with service needs. Zuccerella says with chronic runaways, the department tries to refer parents and kids to Greenwich-based Kids in Crisis for assistance.

“A lot of times we get the pre-emptive call before a kid runs away, and we can usually talk some sense into them,” said Zuccerella. “But for chronic runaways we try to get them to an agency or other services. I always say, 'You don’t send a plumber to fix a roof, and we’re not going to fix a home.' That’s really a job for agencies and services.”

Do you think more services are needed for chronic runaways in Greenwich? Comment below or email ahelhoski@thedailygreenwich.com.

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