Public Safety

Marion police chief formulating plan after Marion Fours Oaks becomes source of multiple police responses

Four Oaks says boys' 'challenging behaviors' not cause for alarm

(FILE PHOTO) Four Oaks renovated an existing building in Marion for their then newly opened residential facility for teenage boys with mental health and behavioral issues. Photo shot on Friday, November 20, 2015. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
(FILE PHOTO) Four Oaks renovated an existing building in Marion for their then newly opened residential facility for teenage boys with mental health and behavioral issues. Photo shot on Friday, November 20, 2015. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

MARION — A residential facility for troubled boys ranks among the locations most responded to by Marion police, and now Chief Joseph McHale is formulating plans to address it.

According to the Marion Police Department, the Four Oaks residential facility at 4000 Highway 151 has had 101 calls for service since the beginning of 2017. Of those, 56 were substantiated incidents — those where a crime occurred or a report was made.

Those 56 episodes place the Four Oaks facility third on a list of locations in the city with the most incidents since January 2017. According to police data, Walmart had 150 incidents during that time and 62 incidents were reported at the Marion police headquarters. After Four Oaks, there were 52 at Menards and 33 at Linn-Mar High School.

John McGlothlen / The Gazette

Among those 56 incidents at Four Oaks are 24 reports of runaways, 15 simple assaults, one aggravated assault and seven acts of vandalism.

Kelli Malone, Four Oaks’ chief program officer, said the Marion facility is home to boys who have experienced “severe trauma” and have been assigned to that facility by the state Department of Human Services or Juvenile Court Service.

“The trauma sometimes results in really challenging behaviors,” Malone said. “That’s our job, to deal with those challenging behaviors.”

Not included in the police data, which is through Feb. 19, is a Feb. 24 incident in which a juvenile was arrested for assault on a peace officer and interference with official acts for being aggressive with two Marion officers who responded.

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Officers on the scene reported that several residents were being “openly defiant” to the staff. One had bleeding scratches on his arm and neck, the report said.

“Something’s broken there,” McHale said this week of the facility.

He said he has assigned a commander to interact directly with management at the facility and gather feedback on any issues there. He has also informed the Marion City Council of incidents at the facility and plans to brief them March 20 on measures taken. He said the steps will include reaching out to Four Oaks managers.

McHale said the runaways are concerning because they can affect the surrounding neighborhoods. He said he also fears the Four Oaks staff could lose control of the facility. He’s said he has seen instances like that in Kansas City, his former jurisdiction.

“That’s the last thing I want to happen because then I have to retake it,” he said.

Malone said Four Oaks is required to report runaways to police, even if staff can handle them most of the time. She also said that — in her experience — when there are issues at a facility, it’s usually due to the behaviors of a small number of residents.

“It’s not like the facility is unstable,” she said. “We have two to three kids that need some extra attention and extra treatment to get in and get comfortable with their new environment.”

Historically, increases in incidents at a facility are cyclical and tend to coincide with an influx of new residents, Malone said. She said about 10 children recently joined the facility.

“I wouldn’t say it’s typical and I wouldn’t say it’s concerning,” she said of the incidents. “It’s what we do. It’s what we do every day. We work with this very challenging population.”

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Malone said Four Oaks has reached out to McHale and is hoping to sit down with his staff as well as Juvenile Court Services staff.

McHale said Four Oaks is welcome in Marion but noted the facility has a responsibility to the community.

“When you’re second to Walmart (in terms of incidents), that should raise some serious red flags,” he said. “It’s way out of whack.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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