How the Amber Alert Failed Hailey Owens

Hailey Owens Amber Alert_1392781921519_3030674_ver1.0_640_480

Hailey Owens is the victim of a broken Amber Alert system. Hailey was kidnapped in front of witnesses in the 3200 block of West Lombard St., in Springfield, MO at 4:48 p.m. on February 18, 2014. By 5:00 p.m. the witnesses had provided local law enforcement with the suspect’s description, vehicle make, color & license plate. Based on eyewitness accounts and the information provided to law enforcement, the Amber Alert should have been issued in minutes. Unfortunately, Springfield PD is not authorized to issue Amber Alerts. That is the responsibility of the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

 

At 6:00 p.m. the Springfield PD issued a news release and posted information about the abduction to their social media sites. Unfortunately, a news release carries neither weight no the sense of urgency of an Amber Alert. A statewide Amber Alert was issued at 7:07 p.m., two-hours and nineteen-minutes after Hailey was kidnapped. Information was distributed to all area law enforcement agencies and media outlets. The suspect’s description, vehicle make, color & license plate were finally released to the public.

 

The National Amber Alert program was broken upon conception. Like all state Amber Alert systems, the Missouri plan was conceived and created by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). I know because I attended one of their steering committee concept meetings and argued against their old technology and their bureaucratic approach. My ideas were rejected by the architects of the plan at NCMEC.

 

Amber Alert should be a local, not statewide system because kidnapping is a local crime. When children are murdered the distance between where the child was last seen and their body was recovered was less than 1.5 mile in 46% of cases and less than 12 miles in 76.5% of cases. The same study clearly demonstrates that missing children are killed within a very short time after they are abducted. 46.8% are dead within an hour, and 76.2% are dead within three hours. Had the Amber Alert been issued within minutes, not hours of Hailey’s abduction, she might very well be alive today. Clearly, in the most desperate cases like Hailey Owens, time is of the essence. We need action, not red tape.

 

The rationale for this cumbersome approach to the Amber Alert is to guard against ‘cry wolf’ scenarios. I have never seen evidence of ‘cry wolf’, but I have seen plenty of kids die because it took too long to issue an Amber Alert. I believe that ‘cry wolf’ is nothing more than a fiction created to justify a broken system. We trust cops with guns, why not trust them to issue Amber Alerts?

 

NCMEC there is blood on your hands. That the Amber Alert failed to save Hailey Owens is not the fault of Springfield PD or the Missouri State Highway Patrol. They were simply following a protocol created by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Fat Cats & Bureaucrats

Let’s set the record straight.

 

Search - Brad

Brad Dennis & Cheyenne

On February 4, 2014 an FBI press release publicized the recovery of 16 children during a Super Bowl sex trafficking sting. Many of the children traveled to New Jersey from other states specifically to be prostituted at the Super Bowl. The children ranged in age from 13 to 17-years old, including high school students and children who had been reported missing by their families.  Additionally, more than 45-pimps and their associates were arrested during the Blitz the Traffickers sting operation. Arrests were made and victims recovered in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

 

A coalition of grass roots nonprofit organizations (NPO) partnered with law enforcement on Blitz the Traffickers, but the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) was the only NPO mentioned in the FBI release. According to GuideStar, in 2012, NCMEC received a $31,715,505 grant from the United States Department of Justice to pursue their mission of helping to prevent child abduction and sexual exploitation; help find missing children; and assist victims of child abduction and sexual exploitation, their families, and the professionals who serve them. The NCMEC (2012) IRS Form 990 allocates $11,407,540 to, “Provide technical assistance and provide case analysis to assist law enforcement in their efforts to locate and recover missing children and victims of domestic child sex trafficking and to locate and apprehend noncompliant sex offenders”.

 

The NCMEC did not put boots on the ground at Super Bowl XLVIII. Instead, they distributed names and photographs of children they believe might be trafficked to the authorities; and they equipped law enforcement with “hope bags” containing items like flip flops and toothpaste for children rescued from prostitution. This is not a lot of bang for your buck.

Stop Sex Exploitation

Under the leadership of Search and Rescue Director Brad Dennis, KlaasKids, which receives no government funding, has been working with the New Jersey State Police since May 2013 and has participated in several of their sting operations leading up to the big game.  We were embedded with the law enforcement Super Bowl operation from January 28-February 1.  During this time, KlaasKids worked in direct contact with Federal and State intelligence analysts providing information to the operational elements of the law enforcement operation. Our role was two-fold: Providing specific leads regarding online advertisements which had a number of indicators suggesting the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Our most beneficial role was to provide additional analysis to any lead the FBI/NCMEC or other agencies provided to the intelligence unit. Our ability to conduct deep-web searches and scrub the initial ad looking for corroborative information enabled us to provide enhanced intelligence to the undercover operation, as well as, to the interviewers.

In Our BackyardThe KlaasKids Foundation was but one component in a nonprofit coalition that participated in the Blitz the Traffickers operation. For more than a year  Nita Belles worked with the New Jersey Attorney General’s office and local trafficking task forces to overcome operational obstacles and ensure the success of Blitz the Traffickers. The Pensacola based Called2Rescue team provided monitoring services of online escort ads and forwarded over 200-leads to the KlaasKids team in New Jersey. KlaasKids then scrubbed those leads for additional corroboration and submitted 23-specific leads to law enforcement. Several of these leads were in neighboring areas/states and were forwarded to those respective units by the FBI analysts. Free International and StudentReach developed a school assembly program featuring a state-of-the-art 3D multi-media production to prevent child exploitation and features posters of several of the missing children to 30-schools and 6-colleges in New Jersey. Global Child Rescue and Stop Sex Exploitation mobilized local faith based partners to disseminate the awareness posters and missing child books throughout New York and New Jersey.

Free International School Assembly

Free International School Assembly

5000-booklets containing images of 43-regional missing children along with 75,000-football cards featuring 3-missing children were distributed in New Jersey and Times Square, NY.  40,000-human trafficking awareness posters, designed by the Attorney General’s office featuring the New Jersey Human Trafficking Hotline were disseminated. Specific highlights of the Blitz the Traffickers operation included: 16-minors rescued.  27-pimps and/or associates were arrested in New Jersey and 17 in New York.

Global Child Rescue

Unlike the Arlington, VA based NCMEC and Washington, DC headquartered Polaris Project, the Blitz the Traffickers nonprofit coalition did not receive government funding. However, while NCMEC sent pictures and bags full of shampoo and water bottles, and the Polaris Project whined, the Super Bowl nonprofit coalition got busy. They directly assisted in rescuing children, apprehending pimps, and raising awareness about an issue that touches our soul deeply.

Called to Rescue

It seems to me that if American citizens are going to financially support missing child and anti-trafficking nonprofit organizations, they should expect a response that influences policy change through action, dedication and determination. Instead, our national treasure is being squandered on fat cats and bureaucrats.  As a nation we deserve better than that.

How the Amber Alert Should Work

Amber Alert revI couldn’t be happier that Hannah Anderson was rescued and that the Amber Alert was effective in her case. Unfortunately, too many deserving kids fall through the cracks through carved in stone criteria, time delays or other bureaucratic nonsense. I have listed my problems with the Amber Alert and easy fix solutions. The problem is that the architects of the system, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children are more concerned with control than efficiency than saving children. Therefore I doubt that my criticisms will be heard.

 

  1. Statewide alerts are mindless. States have borders, but kidnappers do not. In the Anderson kidnapping I received an Amber Alert, yet I live 500 miles away from the crime scene, while people in Yuma, AZ did not receive the Amber Alert despite the fact that they live about 110 miles from the crime scene. I recommend a radius around the crime scene that is not bound by borders.
  2. The current iteration of the smart phone Amber Alert provides sketchy information and cannot be easily verified. Provide a link or other easy reference.
  3. Local authorities should be able to issue Amber Alerts within their jurisdiction. Kicking responsibility up the ladder to a State authority wastes time, results in filtered information and costs lives. Currently, it takes far too long to issue an Amber Alert and statistics clearly state that if a child is murdered as a result of a kidnapping, almost ¾ of those children will be dead within a 3-hour radius.
  4. Don’t alienate your audience. Issuing a bleating Amber Alert in the dead of night or early hours of the morning will cause people to opt out of the service. A better approach would be to depend upon radio and highway signs in the wee hours to notify those individuals that are on the roadways. Radio is and always has been the primary delivery system for motorists, and motorists are the ones who need to know.
  5. Fast food outlets, service stations, truck stops, and highway motels should be notified with graphic/text Amber Alert information.
  6. Don’t be too strict with the Amber Alert criteria. My Polly, Jessica Lunsford, Adam Walsh, Elizabeth Smart wouldn’t qualify under the current system.
  7. Because of the strict criteria Amber Alert is most useful in family abductions. Predators don’t leave vehicle or license plate information.

 

 

RIP BeyondMissing

BM WebsiteBeyondMissing, Inc. began with an idea and blossomed into a reality that functioned flawlessly, twenty-four hours per day for eleven years. Since 2002, BeyondMissing technology has been utilized by law enforcement to issue 174 Amber Alerts, 56 Local Amber Alerts, 16 Abduction Alerts, and 94 Missing Child Alerts. The program had a 95% recovery rate. Yesterday we closed our doors for the last time.

 

Charlie RossMissing person flyers have been paper based ever since the first missing child flyer was issued for four-year-old Charlie Ross in 1874. Distribution was labor intensive and often times expensive and technology breakthroughs were few and far between. In 1979 the mysterious disappearance of Etan Patz riveted the country’s attention after pictures of the beautiful boy were distributed widely on television. Etan was also the first missing child on milk cartons. In 1993, my daughter Polly became the first missing child whose flyer was widely distributed via the Internet. Mostly though, paper flyers were distributed from hand to hand, appearing on telephone poles, Post Office walls, and merchants windows.

 

Two weeks after Polly was kidnapped we conducted a major flyer distribution. We printed thousands of our own flyers, acquired a mailing list, folded flyers, stuffed and addressed envelopes. A friend mortgaged a house to pay for printing and postage. Eight days later flyers began to arrive at their destinations. There had to be a better way.

Etan Patz

Etan Patz

BeyondMissing came to me in a vision. We could significantly close the time gap between a child being reported missing and the ability of the public and media to see the victim by creating an Internet based, password protected website that would allow law enforcement officers to use existing web based tools to create missing child flyers. They could then immediately distribute those flyers to pre-populated Fax and email databases.

 

I acquired a team of management and IT professionals and submitted a proposal for BeyondMissing to the U.S. Department of Justice (USDOJ) with the help of Wisconsin Congressman Mark Green. In turn, the USDOJ asked the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) to evaluate my proposal. They quickly concluded that it should not be funded because, “Existing programs render this program redundant.”  I successfully challenged that conclusion and was eventually awarded $846,000 to build the program. By the time BeyondMissing was operational three months later we had included a parent flyer tool that allows parents of missing children to create their own missing flyers.

 

BeyondMissing was never fully embraced by the law enforcement community at large.

However, we did work with the Texas Department of Public Safety from August 12, 2002 through February 28, 2013. During that time BeyondMissing technology distributed 1,231,500 emails and 34,400 text messages, and initiated distribution to 1,721,800 faxes to targeted public and private recipients on behalf of law enforcement. This technology, which never broke down, was utilized by registered law enforcement in 35 states in the search for 340 abducted or missing children. Cases included 223 female and 117 male children reported as abducted or missing, including 146 White, 131 Hispanic, 45 Black, 5 Asian, 2 American Indian, and 11 identified as other.

 

In 1994, utilizing a $1,000,000 grant, the NCMEC created and introduced the Locator, a web-based poster-creation program that provides law enforcement agencies with access to create and distribute their own posters to include Missing Children. They said that they wanted to close the time gap between a child being reported missing and law enforcement’s ability to distribute a missing flyer. Distribution was limited to email. By this time BeyondMissing was distributing Texas Amber Alerts via text messaging. NCMEC introduced Locator Fax distribution in 2006.

 

In 2001, the NCMEC said that “Existing programs render this program [BeyondMissing] redundant”, yet within three years they had used 1,000,000 of our tax dollars to construct a third rate knock off. The USDOJ turned a blind eye to this waste of public funds. At best, the NCMEC’s behavior is unethical.

 

When I started writing this blog it was with a sense of nostalgia, but now I’m just pissed off.