What should be a haven for kids in need or in trouble has again become a headache for Nassau County police, as well as residents who live in the area.
So far in 2021, there have been 183 cases of children running away from Mercy First, a facility that houses abused and neglected kids in Syosset. That’s about 100 more than over the same time period in 2020.
Over the last month alone, police have released more than two dozen reports of children between the ages of 12 and 16 running away.
Lawmakers are pinning the blame on the non-profit, saying it has failed the children.
County legislator Josh Lafazan told facility officials this week that that institution “needs to beef up security.” The runaways, Lafazan said, have strained police resources, requiring officers to constantly search for the kids.
And those who live in the area are also impacted by the runaways. Neighbor Ed Gulmi said that he was jolted last week by the sight of police helicopters searching for teens from Mercy First.
“Two helicopters, big searchlights, checking the woods back here,” Gulmi told NBC New York,
Another woman said that the problem of runaways is not new, and led her to move away from the area. The runaways, she said, have in the past been blamed for thefts and even acts of violence
Many of the children running away are from New York City, and some have done so multiple times — in one case, 13 times. A law enforcement source says it’s unclear why more are running away now, but the problem has never been addressed.
“Mercy First needs to take leadership, and they need to take leadership today,” said Lafazan.
Mercy First declined to be interviewed on camera, but did release a statement saying “we work closely with local authorities to ensure that the children place here can benefit the mot from our care, remain safe and when they leave campus, return safely.”
Police said that all of the runaways have been returned safely, and are hoping to meet with Mercy First officials in the near future to hopefully find a solution to the problem.