Mamaroneck Runaway Returned from England

by Judy Silberstein

(June 27, 2006) A 16-year-old Mamaroneck runaway made it all the way to London’s Heathrow Airport at 5:40 am, on Friday, June 23, before she was apprehended by the British Immigration Service and was returned to New York. According to the Mamaroneck Village Police, Detective Bernard McNally, working with the parents, determined the girl’s passport was missing. He had her name and information entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) computers, which then popped up in England when the girl was stopped for questioning by the Immigration Service.

heathAccording to police, the girl had not left home to meet someone in London. (This was unlike the Michigan 16-year-old who ran away to Amman Jordan earlier this month to rendezvous with a 20-year-old man she’d met online. See: 'MySpace' Teen's Trip Leads to Family Court.)

Detectives McNally and Joseph Comblo, family members and Port Authority Police were on hand to greet the Mamaroneck girl’s flight at JFK International Airport when the she returned from England at around 5:30 Friday evening. Earlier, the detectives had accompanied the parents to Westchester Family Court to seek a PINS (Person in Need of Supervision) Petition Warrant. This authorized police to take the teen into custody and hold her in a non-secure facility, where she was to remain until she appeared in Family Court on Monday, June 26.

PINS – What’s That?

Most Larchmont parents and teens have only a vague idea what happens in Family Court or what a PINS is. A Person in Need of Supervision is a “status offender” rather than a criminal offender, explained Mary Martin, Supervisory Probation Officer for Westchester County’s Department of Probation. “This is not considered criminal behavior,” she stressed. Instead, the designation involves non-criminal complaints against children under 18 – for truancy, running away, coming in late, using drugs or alcohol.

Someone – usually a parent, but sometimes a school or police official – files a complaint with the Family Court. "This is a tool at our disposal," said Barbara Daquino, the Village of Larchmont's youth officer. "But we like the family to initiate it, if necessary. It's a Family Court issue and always involves the family."

The Westchester Family Court also sees most of these cases as family issues. Rather than immediately proceed to adjudicate the child as a PINS, almost all cases are first sent for diversion services where the Probation Department works with the family on an informal basis. This gets them “plugged into community supports to stabilize the situation and give the parents and child the tools they need to deal with the issues on their own,” said Ms. Martin.

While waiting to go before a judge, children may be held temporarily in a non-secure facility, such as a special cottage at Children’s Village in Dobbs Ferry. And the judge may require further immediate formal action if the child’s behavior represents a safety risk to himself or another family member. Otherwise, the Probation Department tries to keep the case out of court.

The informal process has no maximum time limit – though the typical case takes only a few months, said Ms. Martin. “What parents have to realize, is they can’t come in and expect things to be fixed in a day,” Ms. Martin stressed. Sometimes the behavior has been going on for years. To be considered a PINS case, the behavior must be “willful, chronic and habitual” and the parents must cooperate with the process. “We approach the situation as a family unit – not just focusing on the child exhibiting problematic behavior,” said Ms. Martin.

What If Diversion Doesn’t Work? It’s Back to Court

If the case goes to court, the child is assigned a law guardian, at no cost to the child or family. Often there are numerous court appearances, and the child might remain in the non-secure facility or at home during the process. Usually, the child admits to some or all of the allegations and the Probation Department recommends a set of actions, including further diversion.

If there is no admission, the case proceeds. The child may “win” – and the case may be terminated. Or the child may be adjudicated a PINS and required to participate in the programs recommended by the Probation Department, which may include a residential placement.

Ultimately, if no further complaint is lodged, the case files will be “sealed” and, in the future, no one would learn of the incident.