NATALIE: We all know there is a discrepancy in the coverage of missing children. Our children tend to be classified as runaways so they don’t get the Amber Alert. This is a big problem because the law enforcement response varies according to the classification of the case—whether it’s designated a kidnapping or a runway makes a big difference. But the problem is not just with our children. Our missing adults tend to be classified as criminals.
DERRICA: With law enforcement, we rely on the media also to solve these cases, we can’t get these closed on our own; the media calls law enforcement every day to ask if there are any cases that they need to pay attention to. Every day they call, so the onus is on the law enforcement representative to share these cases with their media contacts.
Another, more serious problem, is that NCIC—the national network that can notify law officers throughout the country—is not always up to date. There’s a failure to put particular cases into the database in many cases that come to our attention. That is a travesty given that time is of the essence. We could have a child abducted in Washington, DC and within two and a half hours he could be in New York City. So there has to be an immediate sharing of this information so all law enforcement agencies are on alert.
JET: In your experience, is there a correlation between a reporting officer’s race and the classification of the missing African-American child case?
DERRICA: Let me just say, there’s a lack of training in general. When I was in training at the police academy we only spent 2 hours on missing persons. So we need to dedicate far more resources to training our law enforcement officers so they can better classify these cases. But sometimes, there is a correlation between the race of the reporting officer, the case classification, and the race of the child in question.
One case that got national attention is the case of serial killer Anthony Sowell. We worked with some of those families and they told us that some of them, when they reported women in their families missing, they were told by police that, “Your loved one will return when the drugs wear off.” The victims were essentially classified as drug addicts and truants so the police reports were not taken. 11 women missing were found buried in Sowell’s backyard.
NATALIE: The problem is that if you’re poor then you’re assumed to be involved in some type of criminal activity. But that is not the case in many cases of missing persons. That’s not the case at all.
DERRICA: That has become a huge issue. The federal government has dedicated law enforcement to address this; recruiters are so sophisticated and are using social media to recruit these children. We have the case of an 11-year-old who met a recruiter at the mall.
The girl was found; someone saw the post; she was drugged on meth, she had been assaulted sexually; she was sent to a rehab center in another state; she was allowed to sign herself out and went back to the street life, the life she was accustomed to; she got the guy’s cell and called her mother; she was recovered. However when her family put her into a rehabilitation center; today she is still missing.
These things are happening in the schools, at the malls, on Facebook, on Twitter. We must educate our kids. We cannot simply have one conversation; this must be part of dinner conversation at least 2-3 times a week. We cannot stress the importance of having a recent photo (last six months) because children change so much from week to week. Parents have to know who their children’s friends are.
We recommend parents create a bogus Facebook page, create a page as if you were a man, see if your child accepts your friendship and see how much information she will give out. Children think that parents don’t know anything; they start confiding in a stranger; you start to learn a lot about your children.
For more info and to report an update on a missing person, please visit the Black & Missing Foundation, Inc. at bamfi.org. And to get the full story be sure to pick up the Missing & Black cover story, which is on newsstands now.