What should be a haven for children in need or in trouble has again been a headache for Nassau County police and local residents.
So far in 2021 there have been 183 cases of children fleeing Mercy First, a facility that houses abused and neglected children in Syosset. That is around 100 more than in the same period in 2020.
In the last month alone, police released more than two dozen reports of children between the ages of 12 and 16 fleeing their homes.
Legislature blames the nonprofit organization, saying it abandoned the children.
County lawmaker Josh Lafazan told the facility officials this week that the facility “needs to beef up security.” The runaways, Lafazan said, have strained police resources and forced officers to constantly search for the children.
And those who live in the area are also affected by the outliers. Neighbor Ed Gulmi said he was shocked last week by the sight of police helicopters searching for Mercy First youths.
“Two helicopters, big searchlights looking back here in the woods,” Gulmi told NBC New York.
Another woman said the runaway problem was not new and caused her to leave the area. The runaways have been held responsible for theft and even acts of violence in the past
Many of the runaway children are from New York City, and some have done so multiple times – in one case 13 times. A law enforcement source says it is unclear why more are running away now, but the issue has never been addressed.
“Mercy First has to take the lead and you have to take the lead today,” said Lafazan.
Mercy First declined to be interviewed on camera, but released a statement stating, “We are working closely with local authorities to ensure that the children here can benefit from our care, stay safe and secure return when they leave campus. “
Police said all of the runaways have been returned safely and are hoping to meet with Mercy First officials in the near future hopefully to find a solution to the problem.