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WEBER CHILDREN'S CENTER SWAMPED

The new Weber County Children's Justice Center has been busier than expected since it opened last June, and much of the workload has stemmed from the criminal investigation of a local religious sect.

The center's interagency staff of investigators was flooded with work last August following a police raid on seven homes in northern Ogden, said center director Katy Larsen.Those homes belong to members of a group known as "The Sister Program" or the "Zion Community."

Interviews of several children taken into custody during the raid led to the arrest of Arvin Shreeve, who has since been sentenced to a 20-years-to-life prison term for sexual child abuse. Officers also arrested several other members of the group on related allegations.

"It was a baptism of fire to see how we could manage that many kids at one time," Larsen said. "They were here for hours on end."

The center has handled 220 cases of reported sexual child abuse or criminal physical child abuse since it opened, and 151 of those came between the mid-June opening and Sept. 30.

Center reports indicated 107 of the reported victims were female and 44 were male.

Larsen said the center's workload leveled out the following quarter, October through December, with 69 new cases including 26 involving juvenile sex offenders.

But she said the center's staff is gearing up for an annual spring outbreak of abuse cases.

"The spring always brings the highest number of referrals," Larsen said. "Nobody really knows why . . . there are many theories. But it's a statewide trend."

The center offers a neutral facility staffed by representatives of law enforcement agencies and the state Division of Family Services.

It includes two interview rooms, one for children and one for adults. Sandwiched between them is an audio-visual room where victim interviews can be videotaped through the one-way mirrors.

"It's a much better place for the interviews to happen than a police station," Larsen said. "The goal of the center is to provide a facility that is comfortable and non-threatening for kids."