Omaha police will take some youths they arrest for nonviolent offenses to the Child Saving Institute for initial assessment instead of to juvenile detention under a new program.

The Child Saving Institute Reception Center is aimed at reducing the unnecessary detention of youths who aren’t dangerous but get picked up on suspicion of minor offenses. Probation officers and counselors can assess the youths’ risk of being a danger to the community or not showing up for court, and counselors can start determining their needs for services, without having to lock them up in a detention center first.

The Douglas County Board voted Tuesday to approve giving $25,000 in state grant money to the Child Saving Institute to fund the program through the end of June. The money comes from the state’s Community-based Juvenile Services Aid program.

The institute, commonly called CSI, is a nonprofit social services and education agency at 4545 Dodge St. It has received preliminary approval from the county’s community grant review team for $184,000 to continue the reception center for the next fiscal year, beginning in July. That grant is pending final approval from the Nebraska Crime Commission and the Douglas County Board.

The $25,000 approved Tuesday comes from grant money left over this fiscal year that other entities didn’t spend. The money will pay for counselors and a supervisor. County Board Chairman Chris Rodgers said the $25,000 will help it get a head start on the coming year.

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Omaha police and Douglas County sheriff’s deputies are participating in the program.

The program launched about a week ago, said Mary Visek, chief probation officer for Douglas County Juvenile Probation.

It’s for young people who are arrested for minor offenses that could be serious enough that the youths might be detained in the Douglas County Youth Center. An example would be a mutual fistfight. For even less serious offenses, such as shoplifting, officers generally release children to their parents or give them a ticket.

Youths arrested for more serious offenses, such as violent felonies, would not be eligible. They’ll still be taken to the Douglas County Youth Center.

“Anybody who’s a threat to community safety is going to go to the Douglas County Youth Center,” Visek said.

But for those who police officers and deputies think might not need to be detained, the officers will call the juvenile probation intake staff for input on whether to take the youths to the detention center first or to the CSI Reception Center, Deputy Omaha Police Chief Scott Gray said.

If they go to CSI, a probation officer will do a risk assessment. The youths might go home to their families, to foster care or a shelter while awaiting a court hearing and services for themselves and their families, if needed.

“The goal is to not expose kids that have low-level offenses (to a detention center), to provide intervention at an earlier age so they don’t commit higher-level offenses and they aren’t traumatized by being placed in essentially a jail cell for higher-level offenders,” Gray said.

It’s part of a pilot program that local law enforcement agencies are working on with the probation office and CSI in advance of a new state law that places additional restrictions on the detention of juveniles. The law takes effect in July.

It’s unclear how many youths the reception center will serve. By Tuesday afternoon, Omaha police had taken only one young person to the CSI Reception Center, Gray said. All of the other youths police had picked up were suspected of more serious offenses.

“We’re still kind of evaluating how it’s all going to work,” Gray said.

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Chris Burbach covers the Douglas County Board, Planning Board and other local government bodies, as well as local neighborhood issues. Follow him on Twitter @chrisburbach. Phone: 402-444-1057.

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