Gates, N.Y. (WHAM) - A well-kept house tucked along Spencerport Road in the town of Gates isn’t easily noticed. But for Gates Police, it was hard to miss.
In 2018, police say they were called to the Villa of Hope group home for teens 276 times. Only the town’s Walmart had more calls.
“It’s very frustrating,” said Gates Police Chief James VanBrederode,
Since 2004, police records show officers were called to the group home for teen mothers 776 times. Most of the calls were for teens who left without permission - known as going AWOL.
For each call, police must file a report.
"There is a cost of that to the community, my police department," VanBrederode said. "And as law enforcement, who sees this, you wonder, 'I’m not sure how this is good for the kids, if they’re just coming and going at their leisure.'"
The high volume of police calls to area residential facilities for teens who have committed non-violent crimes is not unusual.
Records obtained by 13WHAM through the Freedom of Information Law reveal Rochester Police were called to the Hillside Children’s Center on Monroe Avenue 465 times in 2018.
Greece Police were called to the Villa of Hope residential facility on Dewey Avenue 539 times in that same year.
“If it were a private home with the similar calls, we would have called Child Protective Services," says Chief VanBrederode, "but that’s not an option."
Teens sent to the Villa of Hope and similar facilities are not prisoners. They have committed non-violent crimes, but they've mainly suffered serious trauma and need services.
Christina Gullo, CEO and President of the Villa of Hope, said when teens are first sent to their facility, their inclination is often to run away.
“It would be uncommon to have a youth not run. It’s part of the adjustment, especially in the first two weeks, then it decreases," Gullo said.
Gullo added that when a teen does walk away from their facility, staff have no choice but to call police. That decision is made because, in 2013, New York State, through the creation of the Justice Center, mandated police be called every time a teen goes AWOL.
“It’s unfortunate," said Gullo. "We don’t want to exhaust police resources, and we don’t want to cry wolf either."
Gullo said the facility does have house rules for teens. They cannot simply come and go, but physically restraining them in place is not an option, unless they are a danger to themselves.
The Villa of Hope is taking steps to minimize police calls.
For the first time in its 75-year history, a new fence circles the Dewey Avenue property.
Soon, a guard will be manning a small security booth near the entrance, and security will patrol campus.
The Villa is taking on an expanded role, not unlike the Gates Police Chief. And that is where what seemed like conflicting interests have come together.
Both are trying to figure out how to help young people more in need of services than ever before.
“It’s not what’s wrong with them (teens in their facilities), it’s what happened to them," said Angelica Perez-Delgado, Chief Administrative Officer at the Villa of Hope.
”If none of us cared about these kids, we’d just go about our jobs and say nothing," VanBrederode said.
The Villa of Hope Group Home in Gates closed in January because Gullo says the need for it has diminished, but she and Chief VanBrederode are now working together on a future use for the home.