DCS uses intake forms — numbered 310 — to alert law enforcement agencies of reports of abuse and neglect that come to them, and local police departments report seeing them routinely. St. Joseph County agencies usually forward those to the county’s Special Victims Unit for review.
DCS is noticeably requesting more public records about suspects and situations through South Bend police recently, according to spokesman Capt. Phil Trent.
When a 310 report is sent, a case file is automatically opened and the 310 report attached to it, Trent says, even if the report is also forwarded to the special unit.
But he says no such DCS report can be found in South Bend police records listing the Sturgis name.
A DCS spokeswoman said she was not able to respond to Tribune queries last week about how DCS works with law enforcement, including questions about when call center workers alert police or about 310 reports.
Call center policies described on the DCS website refer to how and when law enforcement officials should contact DCS, but not about when DCS should call law enforcement. And online Child Welfare Manual chapters for DCS employees about intake reports and screenings don’t obviously address reporting to law enforcement agencies.
“The rule of thumb is: If there’s a crime in progress, we’re the ones to call,” Trent says. “Ultimately, though, the arbiter of the whole thing is right back to DCS.”
‘Picking and choosing’
Under Indiana law, everyone is obligated to report a suspicion of abuse or neglect to a child. The laws are even stricter for those in some professions, such as people who work in schools.
In a Delaware County case, a judge on Friday agreed with prosecutors that a former Muncie Central High School principal broke the mandatory reporting law by waiting more than four hours to call the DCS hotline after a 16-year-old girl reported a bathroom rape by a fellow student.
According to records, the girl was a ward of the court and living in a center in another county. Then-Principal Christopher Smith asked her to write a statement about what had happened.
The principal did not require the boy involved to write a statement, even though testimony later showed that the boy was caught in lies during initial questioning (without law enforcement). Smith allowed him to return to class and, ultimately, leave the building for the day.
The boy later pleaded guilty in the crime.
Smith declined more than once to involve local police officers, even those working in the school as security officers. A worker where the girl was living was called, and she took the girl to a hospital, where a hospital employee finally contacted police.
Instead, the principal continued his afternoon plans with job interviews and, with another administrator, called the DCS hotline about 4:30 p.m. Nov. 9, 2010.
Smith later said he did not consider child-on-child rape child abuse, and that school policies gave 24 hours to report suspected abuse or neglect.
But Deputy Prosecutor Eric Hoffman discounted those defenses in court pleadings, adding that Smith simply did not believe the victim and did not want to embarrass the school with an arrest. Hoffman told the court that then-Superintendent Eric King — a finalist for South Bend schools superintendent last year who resigned from consideration after this case was publicized here — had passed down his philosophy that school “was not a place for police activity.”
“The requirement of an immediate report is not some arbitrary notion that the General Assembly inserted into the statute,” Hoffman wrote in a post-trial brief. “The legislature specifically chose to require that child abuse and neglect be reported immediately. Such a requirement is needed to prevent people like Chris Smith from picking and choosing what and whom to believe.”
‘An absolute duty’
Yet when Smith called the DCS hotline that day, the DCS employee at the other end of the line indicated that the call would be “screened out.”