Runaway teens from Youth Challenge program putting strain on police

Louisiana National Guard Youth Challenge Program in Carville
Louisiana National Guard Youth Challenge Program in Carville

ST. GABRIEL, LA (WAFB) - The top cop in St. Gabriel believes some students at a military youth program are behind some recent home burglaries. The police chief believes the kids are just trying to run away, but he is worried they will get hurt on the streets.

The Louisiana National Guard Youth Challenge Program in Carville is home to kids, ages 15 to 18 looking to change their lives, but St. Gabriel Police Chief Kevin Ambeau said lately the instructors are having a hard time keeping the teens on campus.

"We've gotten several complaints from people in the community about them being in their yard, one runaway sleeping in someone's shed, another sleeping on a bus at a local bus industry, one of them hopping on the back of a train," Ambeau said.

Chief Ambeau said it usually happens during the first two weeks of the program.

"Recently they got a new academy and this one here is probably the worst since I've been chief. We had 16 at one time escape on last Friday," Ambeau said.

St Gabriel Police Department records show officers responded to reports of 16 runaways on November 3, 15 were returned within two hours. But the next day ten more took off.

"It's tying up a lot of my man power and a lot of time for a small department," Ambeau said.

In the last three weeks, officers responded to 38 calls, involving 66 runaways from the Youth Challenge Program.

"They're not giving us an explanation of how they're getting out," Ambeau said.

Louisiana National Guard Lieutenant Colonel Michael Kazmierzak said the kids are under strict supervision, but admits it's not uncommon for them to sneak out.

"The kids find ways when the instructor is not looking or at night when they are supposed to be bedded down. It happens. But that's why we have procedures and protocol to track down the kids make sure they are safe and get them back on track," Kazmierzak said.

Because instructors are not allowed to touch their students, Kazmierzak said, they call the local police department, as well as the child's parents.

Still, Chief Ambeau thinks the guard needs to do a better job of keeping tabs on their students.

"They're the caretakers. They're responsible for those kids, not the St. Gabriel Police Department," Ambeau said.

The chief said he plans to set up a meeting with the Iberville Parish Sheriff and the campus supervisor to see if they can come up with a solution to the problem.

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