The 1984 movie told us what to do when there's "somethin' weird and it don't look good." Back then, the answer to the question "Who ya gonna call?" was "Ghostbusters!" of course. It's too bad that there isn't a hotline for today's law enforcement agencies to connect to when things "don't look good" — or is there?
If the situation is a missing child, there is a resource that will come to the rescue: the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). The antithesis of the lighthearted "Ghostbusters," NCMEC takes missing and abducted children very seriously. The center assists with everything from abduction and child sexual exploitation cases to age progression and facial reconstruction services, family reunification, training and technical assistance for law enforcement, and the issuing of Amber Alerts. In addition to a paid staff, NCMEC relies on volunteer experts with a broad range of experience that an agency couldn't buy for a million dollars.
In fact, agencies can't buy it for any amount of money because NCMEC provides it all for free.Filling the need
The genesis of NCMEC was the 1979 disappearance of 6-year-old Etan Patz from the streets of New York City, coupled with the 1981 disappearance of another 6-year-old child, Adam Walsh, from a Florida shopping mall. Adam's parents, Revé and John Walsh, turned to law enforcement for help, but found there was a lack of coordinated effort on a state or national level to search for lost and missing children. There also was no organization to assist them. The disappearance of the two children led an effort to place the photos of missing kids on milk cartons, and then to a nationwide movement.
President Ronald Reagan signed the Missing Children's Assistance Act into law in 1984. This legislation established a national clearinghouse of information regarding missing and exploited children. Congress designated the nonprofit organization NCMEC to act as that resource.
NCMEC works in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Justice's (DOJ's) Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The organization has access to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (NLETS). It also operates a national network, which links to law enforcement through 50 state clearinghouses.
According to a 2002 DOJ report, 2,185 children are reported missing each day, totaling nearly 800,000 missing kids a year. About 200,000 of the reported incidents were family abductions, but 115 children were the victims of "stereotypical" kidnappings — crimes that involve someone unknown to or only slightly acquainted with the child. This kidnapper traditionally holds the child overnight, transports him 50 miles or more, and then kills the child, demands a ransom or intends to keep the child permanently.Volunteers to the rescue
As any law enforcement officer knows, "stranger" cases are among the toughest to solve, and any case involving a missing or exploited child is not an easy one to work. In the past 23 years, NCMEC has come to the assistance of law enforcement in almost 130,000 missing-child cases, which have resulted in the recovery of more than 110,000 children.
One way NCMEC provides assistance is through Project ALERT. The Project ALERT program, which has been in existence for 15 years, is made available completely free of charge to law enforcement agencies nationwide.
Project ALERT provides skilled, retired law enforcement officers who donate their time to assist as consultants with missing and exploited child cases. NCMEC coordinates and picks up the tab for all costs associated with travel and resource materials.
NCMEC co-founder John Walsh says this resource is provided because of the relative inexperience various agencies may have with cases involving child victims.
"Since many law enforcement agencies have never handled a serious missing-child case, it makes all the sense in the world to help agencies with retired law enforcement personnel who have been professionally trained in this type of investigation," Walsh says. "This dramatically increases the odds of getting these children back alive."