09/30/2014 06:11 EDT | Updated 11/30/2014 05:59 EST

Lock up chronic runaways to keep them safe: Winnipeg police officer

A senior Winnipeg Police officer says police should have the power to lock up chronic runaways to protect them from being abused on the streets.

Superintendent Danny Smyth told CBC that 60 per cent of the approximately 6,000 missing person cases are youth who've disappeared from group homes.

The topic of runaway youth has shot to the forefront in Winnipeg after details about 15-year-old Tina Fontaine's interactions with authorities in the weeks before her body was found in the Red River.

The girl had run away from the home where she was raised, then she ran away from a home CFS had placed her in.

After that, Fontaine took off when a CFS worker left her in a hotel. 

Supt. Smyth said right now, authorities have no jurisdiction to detain youth who are at risk, but they should. 

He said a Child and Family Services worker may take custody of the young person in order to take them to a facility, but once the youth is there, there's no way to keep them there.

"If somebody is intent on not staying in a group home, it's not like the group home is locking them in to the facility," he said. "They don't have the ability to secure somebody in a group home. And I think that's one of the issues that over time we need to deal with. 

Smyth said the longer the youth is out on the streets, the worse it often becomes for him or her. 

"I think many of these kids, particularly those that are chronic and have been out on the street for a while, they're more at risk of sexual abuse, they're more at risk of substance abuse," he said. "They need the ability to be stable, to stabilize, so we can provide either education, [or]  programming to them. And yet right now, [safe places for youth] don't have the ability to get them in that position of stability."

Smyth pointed to Alberta, where he says police have the authority to lock up runaways for between seven and 40 days.

"You know some legislative changes are probably needed so that we can take kids almost into a custodial situation for a temporary time so that they can stabilize and we can get them the help that they need."