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April 27, 2012 > Protecting drug endangered children

Protecting drug endangered children

By Maureen Garrett

Without the diligence of Sue Webber-Brown, a former district attorney investigator with Butte County, the plight of children who live among addicts and the drug labs they create may have continued to be ignored. But in the 1990's, when the methamphetamine lab culture was at its peak, Webber-Brown recognized these exposed children were at increased risk of death, injury, sexual abuse and other forms of physical, emotional abuse and neglect. Her mission became to promote cooperation between Law Enforcement, the District Attorney's Office, Child Protective Services, medical and health services and County Probation so that during drug lab raids, the welfare of children came first.

Prior to these efforts, law enforcement often saw children as obstacles to their drug lab investigation. Child Services workers would not respond to scenes and children were often handed over to the nearest neighbor or relative without background checks or home visits. Often, it was never known if a child was going into another drug home or worse yet, a home with a registered sex offender. In addition, the serious health risks to these children are numerous when they have been exposed to the toxic chemicals used in the production of methamphetamine.

Even in homes without meth labs or chemicals there are hazards endangering children which stem from the use, sale or manufacture of any drug. Users often live a lifestyle "incompatible with a proper regard for human life." This usually leaves a child exposed to less quantifiable hazards: drug trafficking; sex offender registrants; pornography; weapons, raids by law enforcement which may result in gunfire. Deputy district attorneys would neither file nor prosecute child endangerment charges, often because the method and type of evidence collection for the crime of Child Endangerment was insufficient. In short, there was no coordinated effort towards the necessary goal to get kids out of dope homes and hold people accountable for their crimes.

James Hodges, a lieutenant with the Alameda County Sheriff's department in charge of the northern narcotics unit learned about Sue Webber's efforts and led the charge to bring all the various agencies to the table to hammer out a protocol. Hodges' passion and understanding of the program was the force needed to propel and educate local law enforcement into taking care of the children first while conducting the drug and child abuse/neglect investigation simultaneously. Hodges completed the DEC (Drug Endangered Children) protocol in 2007, just as he was about to retire, which is when the Fremont Police Department took over as the lead agency.

From 2008 to the present, Lieutenant Kim Petersen, Sergeant Gregg Crandall, Detective Rodney Little, Detective Teresa Martinez and Officer Heather Huiskens have tirelessly taken up the cause of Drug Endangered Children. They have focused on getting support from law enforcement heads and convincing them to implement a policy and train their personnel. In 2011 the District Attorney's and all social workers at the Department of Children and Family Services received DEC training along with Alameda County Probation. Lieutenant Petersen has been successful in putting together a Drug Endangered Children Response Team consisting of a deputy district attorney, law enforcement and a child welfare worker. And because of her efforts, illegal drug manufacturers are finally being held accountable for endangering their children.

If you, as a concerned citizen, observe or suspect drug lab activity in your neighborhood, it should be reported, to your local police non-emergency line. However, if you believe a child is in danger, the call should be placed to 911. If the investigation that follows reveals a child is in danger, your local officers will enlist the response of appropriate DEC Team members.

If you suspect any suspicious activity in any Fremont neighborhood relating to drug manufacturing, please leave a confidential message at (510) 790-6800.

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