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Pittsburgh police chief calls for juvenile detention center to reopen

Police chief calls for reopening of juvenile detention center
Police chief calls for reopening of juvenile detention center 03:20

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Pittsburgh's chief of police is calling for the reopening of the Shuman Juvenile Detention Center, whose future is now up in the air.  

Pittsburgh Police Chief Larry Scirotto decried the absence of a juvenile detention center after a 17-year-old was released to his mother for allegedly making threats against a Pittsburgh high school and being arrested with an AK-47 rifle. 

"Without a detention center, without available beds, we know that this juvenile is a serious threat to the health and wellbeing of every member of our community, and yet we cannot place them in a facility to mitigate that harm," Scirotto said during a press conference announcing the arrest.  

It's two years and counting. Since the closing of Shuman Center, more than 300 juveniles arrested for serious crimes -- most involving guns and felony violence -- have been released into the custody of their parents because of the lack of juvenile detention beds in the region.  

"Because there's no definable location to hold them accountable for their actions, they become a tremendous danger to themselves and to our community," Scirotto said.

Scirotto says police are tired of spinning their wheels, arresting and re-arresting the same juveniles time and again. Scirotto was buoyed by an expectation Shuman would be reopening in January under the private contractor Adelphoi, but Allegheny County Council has filed suit, with some members saying the county should run the center. 

As a result, Shuman's reopening is now in doubt.

"I don't care who runs it. That's not for me to determine," Scirotto told KDKA-TV's Andy Sheehan. "All I can tell you is we need it. And we needed it a year ago. We needed it two years ago." 

Without Shuman, magistrates order serious offenders to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet on their ankles, but according to statistics provided by the Allegheny County Courts, those bracelets don't stay there.

Last year, 210 juveniles on electronic monitors went AWOL, meaning they cut the bracelets off or let the battery die. Through September of this year, 182 did the same. A total of 392 juveniles went AWOL over the past 21 months.

"Electronic monitoring is a joke to some of our young people," Scirotto said. 

In September, 15-year-old Mohamed Hussein was shot and killed in Allentown with an electronic bracelet on his ankle. Weeks before, police say Hussein had been on the scene of the double homicide of two Woodland Hills High School students in Braddock.

"He's the perfect example where detention is necessary," Scirotto said. 

The county courts say Hussein is one of six juvenile homicide victims whose lives might have been saved had they been placed in Shuman. Scirotto argues that removing juveniles from the street for a time keeps them and the community safe while they get counseling that may turn their lives around.

"Detention is meant to be an opportunity for intervention. And in that intervention, you have the ability to impact young people whose lives are going in a direction that's not favorable to society," Scirotto said. 

There is a hearing scheduled for next week on Allegheny County Council's suit. 

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