June 3, 2019
All Hands on Deck
Two-year college hits milestone in leading vast fight for the missing
(Appleton, WI)—An empty red wagon tipped on its side covers a sidewalk once filled with laughter and chalk. The sound of squeaky chains comes from an empty park swing swaying in solitude to a gentle breeze. A scuffed bicycle is stumbled upon in long grass inside a countryside ditch.
Do these shades of missing children still depict how they are robbed of their youth today?
The premise behind that question perhaps paints depictions of fear and paranoia from years ago when it came to missing children. Even profiles of kids on the backs of milk cartons instilled alarm on families. At one time, even as recent as the early-1990s, moms and dads grew eyes in the backs of their heads in small town, USA.
Missing kids' photos on milk cartons and other imagery related to child abductions have always translated into a parent's worst nightmare. The issue today may not be as overtly transparent, but that doesn't mean it's not a concern. Conversely, the web, social media, and other digital communication platforms have ushered a whole new disguise to the problem—making matters worse.
Enticing kids into harm's way over the Internet introduces deception—a cunning strategy used by offenders that tap into self-esteem and social standing as a means to lure a child or teen into the unknown. Even adults are being persuaded into risky relationships from perpetrators lurking more behind keyboards than bushes.
According to the Pew Institute and the National Crime Prevention Center, approximately 116,000 solicitations for child pornography are made daily over the internet in the United States. "We need national strategies to fight internet crimes and human trafficking," says Brad Russ, director of Fox Valley Technical College's (FVTC) National Criminal Justice Training Center (NCJTC).
The NCJTC provides training and technical assistance across the nation in areas like AMBER Alert, Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC), human trafficking, preventative tactics and reactive response to missing persons, and more. For more than 25 years, the Center has served as the national training backbone to all things related to missing persons.
"We received the first grant to start our efforts from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in 1993," notes Russ. "As a result, our first nationally-recognized training programs operated as separate entities dealing mostly with AMBER Alert and ICAC. From that point forward, we realized that the best way to address these overwhelming needs was to create strategic teams to support our priorities and grant deliverables."
Russ, a retired police chief, brings a rich history of law enforcement experience unique to child advocacy and protection, along with child abuse prevention, to his leadership role at the NCJTC. He was also one of the country's first ten ICAC Task Force Commanders.
"Over the years, politics and priorities in this arena have posed challenges in federal funding to fight against protecting the innocent," he says. "One way we've learned to optimize advocacy efforts and training outcomes is to increase our pool of subject matter experts, and then streamline them into most all our trainings."
These are the real difference makers when it comes to a national strategy that can effectively combat the war on America's kids, according to Russ. For example, integrating nonprofit agencies dealing with youth counseling during an offering on locating missing children is an example of constructing more of a community crusade during training. In other words, this issue if everyone's issue. The soundest approach to winning the war against the innocent is uniting agencies with the same goals versus working in silos.
Sadly, there are many ways a child can go missing; therefore, there needs to be a plethora of prevention and search methods in place to offset the plight. School liaison officers and people overseeing teen organizations, shelters, and more now work as a team with police, investigators, district attorneys, and so on under one umbrella with respect to personal safety.
Where has this strategy led? Today, the NCJTC provides training in every state and U.S. territory while having conducted presentations before the State Department, World Health Organization, and for law enforcement in many foreign countries. Russ believes it's all about the mobilization of knowledge, skills, and resources that create a universal infrastructure of best practices.
Shelly Smith, executive director of Kids Center in Bend, Oregon, views the NCJTC as vital collateral to her organization's mission of providing child abuse evaluations, family support services, and forensic interviewing. "The commercial sexual exploitation of children is rampant, and it necessitates a multi-disciplinary team to protect the most vulnerable in our communities," she says. "The NCJTC training empowered us with the tools to start our own community response plan. Our team wouldn't be where it is at today without this offering."
Like Smith's situation, each agency dealing with missing children or missing persons has their own set of distinct challenges. An uptick in issues pertaining to domestic violence recently flooded emergency responders concerning the La Jolla Band of Luiseno Indians in Pauma Valley, California. The La Jolla Tribal Police Department looked to the NCJTC to address the crisis.
Jim Walters, a U.S. Air Force veteran with 35 years of police force experience, understands the need to customize training when it comes to missing, abducted, and exploited children. One of NCJTC's top instructors, Walters has taught in the aforementioned disciplines in 48 states, along with Canada and Mexico. He likes the investment that Tribal communities, for instance, are making on several fronts that involve endangerment to children and adults, including domestic abuse.
"The La Jolla initiative serves as a model for success," states Walters. "Its police department raised community awareness on domestic violence, in addition to alcohol and substance abuse, through a variety of engaging programs like Lunch with Cops, Elder Outreach, First Responder, and Youth and the Law Day. Consequently, the department observed a decrease in calls for domestic violence and situations surrounding drugs and alcohol."
One would think that an effort this orchestrated and extensive would herald from "Big City, USA." Not only is the NCJTC a product of a two-year college, FVTC is home to one of the nation's gems for best practices in law enforcement, firefighting, and first responder training at the 80-acre, simulation-based Public Safety Training Center in Appleton, Wisconsin.
Russ is pleased with the NCJTC's twenty-five years of bringing more allies on board to keep America's communities safer, but it's a fight that will only intensify. "Human trafficking is a full-fledged business, and school safety remains top of mind when we assimilate the greatest threats facing our children today. It's imperative to strengthen our fight with more stakeholders who are passionately entrenched in child protection and personal safety for all ages."
This line of work is about life and death. The victims are those of the most serious crimes imaginable. If the next 25 years are indicative of more good that comes from combating such evil, like seeing rescued children, solving cases, and prosecuting offenders, it will require all hands on deck.
NCJTC in the USA
- Offers 150+ training courses in 13 categories to meet the highest priorities in the nation
- Impacted more than 250,000 trainees in every state, many times over
- Includes subject matter expertise from over 200 child protection practitioners
- Receives federal funding from 20 separate awards through the Office of Justice Programs and COPS Office
- Recovered 957 children as of May 1, 2019, by way of AMBER Alert
In the News:
Appleton-born National Criminal Justice Training Center is now a leader in missing-persons cases (Post-Crescent) >>