RACINE, Wis. (AP) - During drug raids, Racine police search for weapons, drug paraphernalia and other illegal items, but they're also on the lookout for children.
Since 2009, the city's police department has partnered with the Racine County Human Services Department and the Racine County District Attorney's Office on a program that requires officers to contact human services when they come across a child exposed to drug abuse or trafficking, the Journal Times reported.
Since then, the Racine County Drug Endangered Children Program has placed more than 200 children in human services custody for assessment.
The program was developed after authorities realized there were pitfalls in a system in which officers who found children in a drug bust would handle the situation on their own, often handing the children over to friends or family of a suspect.
Now, police officers notify human services as soon as they know children are in a drug house. Sometimes children who are removed from the home are returned. Other times they are placed with a guardian or put into foster care.
From the start of 2010 through the end of 2012, 113 of the 163 children taken into custody by human services were taken out of the home by court order. About half were placed in foster care and others were placed with relatives. The 50 children not placed on court orders were allowed to remain in the home.
The Human Services Department handled 38 cases in 2013 and 10 so far this year, but details on outcomes weren't available Friday.
Youth and Family Division Manager Kerry Milkie said the effort has helped protect dozens of children whose abuse and neglect might never have been identified. It's also led to dozens of added charges for parents who neglected or placed their children in harm's way.
Milkie said the hope is that parents will understand how their actions can hurt their children and make changes.
Racine County Deputy District Attorney Tricia Hanson said part of bringing change is showing parents that child endangerment and abuse is illegal.
Racine Police Sgt. Jeff BeBow said it's rewarding to take children out of dangerous situations, but also sad for him to see the conditions some children live in.
"We have seen drugs hidden in children's purses. We had a loaded handgun right underneath a couch pillow in a living room where a 2-year-old child was running around," BeBow said. "You see these things go on but, hopefully, you make a difference and can get these kids out of these environments."