410 – Children and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office
I. General Provisions and Terms
A. Under Texas law, a child is a person who is ten (10) years of age or older and under seventeen (17) years of age or a person seventeen (17) years of age or older and under eighteen (18) years of age who is alleged or found to have engaged in delinquent conduct or conduct indicating a need for supervision as a result of acts committed before becoming 17 years of age (Texas Family Code). In the context of criminal law, a child is referred to as a juvenile.
B. The Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) comes into contact with children in their roles as victims, suspects, defendants, and witnesses and through normal daily operations as members of the general public. The HCSO is committed to the development and perpetuation of programs designed to prevent and control juvenile delinquency. The responsibility for participating in or supporting the agency’s juvenile operations function is shared by all HCSO components and personnel.
Programs implemented include, but are not limited to:
• R.A.D. Kids
• Junior Mounted Posse
• Junior Achievement
• Dine With a Deputy
C. The HCSO is governed by and will abide by all rules, policies, and procedures relating to children and juveniles as set out in the Texas Penal Code, the Texas Family Code, the Texas Human Resources Code, by the Harris County juvenile district courts, the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department and Children’s Protective Services, and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office Juvenile Division.
D. The HCSO Criminal Investigations Bureau has a separate group of employees assigned to the Children’s Protective Services who are responsible for investigating all matters involving children or juveniles which are brought to the agency’s attention.
E. Each bureau is responsible for generating its own policies and procedures for handling children or juveniles in accordance with applicable law and regulations.
F. Any child who comes into contact with the HCSO for any reason will be dealt with in a professional manner.
II. Children as Victims
A. The Texas Penal Code provides for different penalties and offenses depending on the age of the child.
B. The sole function of Children’s Protective Services is to investigate reports of abused or neglected children and to protect them. Included in such function is the vigorous prosecution of persons responsible for such abuse or neglect.
C. Whenever possible, other HCSO personnel will coordinate investigations with Children’s Protective Services.
D. All runaway children should be considered victims. A child is considered a runaway when the child’s parent, guardian, or custodian makes an official report to the HCSO.
III. Children as Criminal Offenders
A. Texas Family Code Title 3, “Delinquent Children and Children in Need of Supervision,” sets out strict guidelines for handling children accused of criminal offenses.
B. Juveniles are subject to the same laws pertaining to arrest, search, and seizure as are adults.
C. Each time a juvenile is taken into custody for a criminal offense or a status offense, a report must be generated.
D. Harris County Juvenile Probation provides a Juvenile Division Investigation Report form that must be completed for each juvenile referred to juvenile court.
E. Files and records regarding juveniles accused of criminal offenses are not subject to the Texas Open Records Act, nor are they open to public inspection. Disclosure of such files and records may only be in accordance with the Texas Family Code.
F. Juveniles must be kept separate and apart from adult offenders and may not be housed in an adult lockup. Administrative and investigative offices may be used as locations for temporary detention. Each bureau must provide policy and procedures to comply with this requirement.
G. Within a reasonable time after a juvenile is arrested and taken into custody, the person taking the juvenile into custody shall release or discharge the juvenile in accordance with the Texas Family Code.
H. Fingerprints and photographs of juveniles taken into custody shall be taken only in accordance with the Texas Family Code.
I. Personal interviews with a juvenile may only be conducted in accordance with applicable provisions of the Texas Family Code.
IV. AMBER Alerts
Only a Homicide supervisor or Homicide investigator can issue a local or state AMBER Alert for the HCSO.
A. The Homicide supervisor or Homicide investigator must verify all five specific criteria prior to submitting a request for an AMBER Alert. The five criteria consist of:
1. The child is 17 years of age or younger;
2. The law enforcement agency believes the child has been abducted (this means the child was either unwillingly taken from his or her environment without permission from the child’s parent or legal guardian or taken by the child’s parent or legal guardian who commits an act of murder or attempted murder during the time of the abduction);
3. The law enforcement agency believes the missing child is in danger of serious bodily harm or death;
4. The law enforcement agency has conducted an investigation that has either verified the abduction or eliminated alternative explanations for the child’s disappearance; and
5. Sufficient information is available to disseminate to the public that could assist in locating the abducted child, suspect, or the vehicle used in the abduction.
B. The Texas AMBER Alert Network has adopted the same five criteria for activation.
C. All AMBER Alerts for the Houston region are sent to the Texas AMBER Alert Network.
D. Based on the above criteria, the following situations DO NOT qualify for AMBER Plan activation:
1. Missing child believed to have run away from home,
2. Missing child taken by a non-custodial relative in a child custody case,
3. Missing adult (age 18 or older), or
4. Police search for other criminals (murder suspect, bank robber, etc.).
This policy has been revised on the below listed dates:
April 21, 2009