A national treasure

      I recently visited the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a nonprofit agency outside of Washington, D.C.

   NCMEC throws its considerable resources into investigating child abductions, disappearances and slayings, among other things. And it helps law enforcement agencies around the country not only solve cases, but also many times assist in putting the perpetrators behind bars.

   NCMEC makes its home in an old hotel that also saw time as the headquarters of a legal office. The building occupies a Virginia street corner in a quaint and popular area. But it's not the outside of the NCMEC or it's location that makes it special. It's the employees and volunteers and what they do with their resources.

   Crammed into basic cubicles, the NCMEC staff is composed of talented investigators and other law enforcement experts who bring to their jobs not only a single-minded dedication, but years of experience.

   For a book project I have underway I interviewed Glenn Miller, a retired police investigator, and Jerry Nance, who is also retired, but from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Both Miller and Nance earned their retirements, but at a time when they could be kicking back and fishing or puttering around in their gardens, they spend their days helping law enforcement resolve issues with missing and murdered children.

   Miller, a forensic artist who's work is highly regarded, often teaches the use of both age progression and regression techniques. Nance is skilled in forensics-based investigations and has the doubly sad duty of working cases where the outcome is every parents' worst nightmare.

   Both men have decades of top level experience and both saw that there wasn't simply life after retirement, but a chance to take finely honed skills and make them useful. The kind of expertise they possess isn't easy to come by in this age when employees often change jobs and even professions every two years or so.

   Miller and Nance aren't alone. The NCMEC has a full complement of former federal agents, state and local investigators and experts of every imaginable background constantly at work.

   Why is this important for you to know? Because they want to assist law enforcement with cases that fall within their mission, and they have access to materials, expertise, techniques and equipment that many smaller (and even larger) agencies do not. And that's important in these days of tight budgets and rapidly changing technology.

   For instance, Miller uses a computer program to age regress photographs of officers who offer their own pictures as bait for online predators. The technique is amazing — he takes contemporary photographs of adults and makes them appear to be contemporary photographs of today's kids, perfect for not exposing a real child to danger and for taking to court once an arrest is made.

   I was impressed with how far the science of forensic art has progressed. I remember attending classes to learn how to make composites. It worked, but the result was anything but life-like. Now, forensic artists use special computer programs that create likenesses so real they seem to breathe.

   Forensic art is only one of the forward-thinking ways that NCMEC has helped to even the playing field in investigating serious crimes against children. At a time when sexual predators find so much purchase on the Internet, criminal justice agencies need all the help they can muster battling these creeps.

   NCMEC stands as a monument to the kinds of results that present when all of that brain power and expertise are put to work for a common cause. There are children alive today because of NCMEC — those results speak for themselves.

   NCMEC has been celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Here's a tip of the hat to a true national treasure, and the staffers who work to bring the worst of the worst to justice.

   A 12-year veteran of police work, Carole Moore has served in and has extensive training in many law enforcement disciplines. She welcomes comments at carolemoore@ec.rr.com.