Arizona Attorney General

Mark Brnovich



What Happens Once A Report Of Suspected Drug-Endangered Children Is Received?

Initial Actions
When local law enforcement personnel receive a report of a suspected meth lab, they will first determine through a thorough investigation if a meth lab is likely operating. If children are present, their safety is a primary concern. The appropriate investigators, including the DEC program, child crimes and Department of Child Safety (DCS) are notified and respond immediately. DCS works jointly with law enforcement at the scene to ensure that the child is protected from further chemical exposure and collects information necessary for both the drug investigation and the potential child abuse case. An interview of the child can take place at the scene, but generally occurs in a more child-friendly environment such as a family advocacy center.

After the child is removed, the crime scene is isolated. If the DCS worker determines there is sufficient information to indicate child abuse, the DCS hotline is called and a formal report is filed. This is different from the general practice where a DCS report is made before an investigation takes place. Concurrent investigations – narcotics, child abuse and child protective services – will proceed and investigators will share information with each other to facilitate their collaborative, multidisciplinary effort.

Safeguarding Children
Child in protective clothing being removed from a meth labIn the past, if a child was found at a meth lab, the child was removed from the scene, often to the care of a family friend or relative, and insufficient consideration was given to the effects of the toxic chemicals or hazards the child faced on a daily basis. At best, a referral would be made to a social service agency.

The Arizona DEC Program ensures that children receive an immediate and appropriate medical exam, including a test for exposure to toxic chemicals and developmental screening. Upon being removed from the crime scene, the children are showered or bathed to reduce chemical exposure and provided with new clothing, food and, if needed, crisis counseling. A forensic interview will be conducted with the child, most often in a child friendly environment. The medical exam and interview provide important evidence to be used in the drug and child abuse prosecutions and the dependency case.

On-site Investigation
After the initial emergency response, the appropriate law enforcement unit will complete the investigation. Once a meth lab site is cleared of the evidence needed for prosecution, a police officer will affix on the dwelling a notice stating that a drug lab was seized and that it is unlawful for anyone, other than the owner, manager or remediation firm personnel, to enter the premises. Entering is a violation of the law and a class 6 felony; removal of the sign prior to cleanup is a class 2 misdemeanor. Once the property owner or manager is notified, a remediation firm recognized by the Arizona State Board of Technical Registration must clean up the property. After the property is cleaned, the remediation firm can remove the notice. A list of approved drug remediation firms and clean-up requirements can be found on the Arizona State Board of Technical Registration’s Web site.

The Arizona Attorney General's Office has concurrent jurisdiction in Maricopa County and statewide for the prosecution of cases involving children exposed to the methamphetamine lab environment. In other areas, the County Attorney assumes responsibility for the criminal prosecution. The Arizona Attorney General's Office has statewide jurisdiction over the dependency action.

The Arizona Attorney General's Office of Victim Services will work with DCS to obtain the contact information for the guardian of the child victim and will provide written notification the of case status, including dates and times of all legal hearings to the guardian. A Victim Advocate is available to accompany the child and/or their legal guardian to court, as well as to detail the rights of the legal guardian with regard to the minor victim and make needed social service referrals. In some instances, losses to the victim as a result of the crime may be reimbursable. The Victim Advocate can provide information about victim compensation, including costs for such items as counseling. For more information on victim services, call 602-542-4911.