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REFORM LAW DETERS POLICE ACTION

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The Child Welfare Reform Act became law on July 1. This law mandates that a parent whose minor child is taken into protective custody by the Division of Family Services or a peace officer has certain procedural rights.

But the law does not stop there. It requires that peace officers fill out six different forms when placing any child into shelter. A multidisciplinary hearing is then held before the end of the next business day. The purpose of the hearing is to determine whether a petition regarding abuse of the child should be filed in Juvenile Court.State law further requires that any sworn peace officer who places a child into protective custody attend the multidisciplinary hearing. This usually means that an officer whose shift ends at midnight, 2 a.m. or even 6 a.m. must abandon his or her personal activities (or sleep) the next day, to go and sit through a hearing just in case the information contained in the six forms he filled out the night before isn't enough to have Juvenile Court take a look at the situation.

From my point of view as a peace officer, this law has only had the effect of deterring peace officers from placing children into protective custody, sometimes, even when the circumstances warrant it. Children are often released to relatives or neighbors, rather than into qualified shelter care facilities. I am concerned that some of these alternative arrangements may not be in the best interests of the children.

I wonder where our lawmakers' true concerns were when they hung this millstone around the necks of peace officers and children. But then, peace officers are a negligible minority, and children can't vote.

Paul L. Maxwell

Salt Lake City