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June 2015 Newsletter: Missing Children Cases and Media Partnerships

With the commemoration of National Missing Children’s Day in May, this month’s MECP newsletter focuses on engaging and utilizing the media in cases of missing children. We first highlight May’s webinar presentation, “When a Child Goes Missing: Media Matters.” This webinar features case studies of missing children and provides an overview of the media’s contribution to those cases. Our feature article, provided by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), also addresses the effective use of the media in cases of missing children and the nuances that may arise through the investigation. Finally, we have included a recap of this year’s National Missing Children’s Day Ceremony, which was held at the Department of Justice’s Great Hall on May 20th, 2015 and honored those who serve and protect our nation’s missing and exploited children.

MECP Webinar: When a Child Goes Missing: Media Matters

President and Co-Founder of National Women’s Coalition Against Violence & Exploitation (NWCAVE), Michelle Bart and Co-Founding Advisor, Natalie Brand presented May’s webinar, entitled “When a Child Goes Missing: Media Matters.” This webinar emphasized the importance of law enforcement and media partnerships in engaging the public and the recovery of missing children. The webinar focused on:

  • Recognizing opportunities for collaboration with media and non-profit organizations
  • Understanding the ongoing epidemic of missing & exploited children and how we must all work together to bring children home
  • Identifying the key information needed to provide assistance in engaging the public
  • Learning strategies for establishing relationships with media

To view this presentation and other MECP webinars, please visit here

Missing Children and the Media The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children         

Hundreds of thousands of children in the United States go missing every year. Most children are recovered quickly, but some cases can present significant challenges for law enforcement, especially for smaller agencies with few resources. Media can provide critically needed help, but to make that happen, law enforcement and families of the missing must understand the media. When they do, it’s more likely a child’s story will be covered, more likely the public will stay interested, and more likely the child will be found.

Effective use of the media starts with an overall media policy: written guidelines for law enforcement on how to interact with media. The policy should acknowledge that while media can seem intrusive at times, reporters believe that pressing for information is their job. You need them to engage the public in the search. Certain practices can smooth over your differences and foster a powerful partnership between law enforcement and media and, in missing child cases, with the families of the missing. These practices include:

  • Never lie to, abuse, or publicly criticize the media. If you do, your behavior may become a story. So always be polite, even if the media is not. You’ll come across as likeable – and the public is more likely to help you if they like you. 
  • Assume you are always being recorded, and that anything you say will be publicized.  Members of the public can be recording with their phones at any time. Reporters don’t stop recording after an interview ends. First responders in particular need to be on guard, because their comments are likely to become the media’s first sound bites and quotes.
  • Treat reporters fairly. Release news to everyone at once, either in news conferences or on the Internet. Meanwhile, know your community’s respected reporters, their email addresses, phone numbers, and how they like to be contacted. Arrange to meet them in person. If you feel you need to limit release of sensitive information, contact a trusted reporter directly.  
  • Learn the preferred way to get information to wire services, newspapers, radio, and TV stations; how to use posters and billboards; and how to use and monitor missing children’s websites and social media. Use major players such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Yik Yak, YouTube and Vine to get your message, including pictures and video, directly to both media and the public. 
  • If staffing levels permit, appoint a public information officer (PIO) to respond to media questions, schedule interviews, and control your department’s messages. These officers help reporters keep the facts straight. 
  • Whenever you speak to the media, your message should be clear and concise. Write a statement in advance. Keep your sentences simple and readable in 20 seconds or less.  Rehearse: you want to deliver your statement smoothly.   
  • Schedule news conferences with as much advance notice as possible. They should not conflict with other events, media deadlines or forecasted bad weather. Be sure the media will have parking, electricity, WiFi, and restrooms. Send the details to your Associated Press bureau to be included on the day’s calendar of events.

With these policies and practices established as routine, law enforcement has the foundation for working well with the media should a child go missing. If that happens, this key information should be released immediately:

  • The child’s picture. This remains the single most powerful tool in the search for the missing child.
  • A written description: hair, eye and skin color, height, weight, unique identifiers such as tattoos, piercings and scars
  • Where and when the child was last seen
  • What the child was doing
  • What the child was wearing, including hats and jewelry
  • Information such as a suspicious person or car seen near the child
  • Whether the child is ill and/or takes medication
  • If the child has special needs and is prone to wandering, release information about things the child may be attracted to, such as water
  • Whether there is a reward.

When a child is missing, immediately contact the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678). NCMEC has a vast photo distribution system that can quickly create and distribute missing posters to targeted areas. As the nation’s leading nonprofit working with law enforcement, NCMEC can provide many free resources to law enforcement to help find the child and can help engage the media.

Law enforcement should also put the child’s poster on websites and social media, targeting the media you believe can help you the most. Contact TV shows geared to fighting crime. Ask the public to call NCMEC’s hotline with tips.

If able, the family of the missing child should make a public statement, telling the child they are loved and missed, and asking the public for help. This can comfort the child, motivate the public, and provide the media with powerful audio, video, and quotes.

The family should appoint a spokesperson to liaise with law enforcement and the media. This will help coordinate interviews and the family’s messages. Remember that reporters are likely to be working on multiple stories, so the more organized law enforcement and families are, the easier it is for the media to get the story right.

Understand that the media will be looking for fresh angles on the child’s story. You can have more control over the content of such “sidebars” by releasing details about the investigation as they become available. You can stage events that lend themselves to good video and sound. Consider candlelight vigils and balloon releases. Get sports teams to play games in the missing child’s honor. Have celebrities make statements about the child. Ask radio stations to mention the child when his or her favorite song is played. Update the media on the child’s birthday, on holidays, and if/when the child has been missing for one week, a month, six months, one year, etc. When the child is recovered, the media will likely still want to write stories.  After using the media to help find the child, don’t then shut them out.

Finally, monitor the media coverage of your missing child story. If you find errors, ask for corrections.

All of these strategies can help the media remind the public that a child is missing, ensure that a child’s case is covered, and help lead to a successful recovery. For additional information on tips and coping mechanisms for parents, please feel free to view OJJDP’s publication entitled— When Your Child Goes Missing: A Family Survival Guide.

OJJDP’s 2015 National Missing Children’s Day Ceremony

In honor of National Missing Children’s Day, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) held its annual ceremony to commemorate the heroic efforts of those who go above and beyond the call of duty to protect children, and reunite them with their families. This year’s observance was held at the Department of Justice’s Great Hall on May 20th, 2015. Attorney General Loretta Lynch presided over the ceremony where she congratulated the five awardees and commended those in attendance for their efforts to make our nation safer. “The work you do,” she said, “is inextricably linked with some of the most fundamental values of our country: collaboration in the face of complex challenges; innovation in the service of our most pressing needs; and an unbreakable commitment to the most vulnerable among us.” [i]   All of the award winners reflected the fundamental values as outlined by Attorney General Lynch. Please join MECP in recognizing and congratulating this year’s Missing Children’s Day awardees.

The Department of Justice presented awards to the following individuals for their heroic efforts and dedication to protecting children:    

2015 Attorney General’s Special Commendation: Special Agent William Thompson, Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, San Diego, California

Missing Children’s Law Enforcement Award: Corporal Christopher Heid, Maryland State Police, Columbia, Maryland

OJJDP Administrator Missing Children’s Citizen Award: Assistant Principal Jeneé Littrell, Chaparral High School, El Cajon, California

Missing Children’s Child Protection Award: Special Agent Paul Wolpert, Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Norfolk, Virginia

This year’s Missing Children’s Day poster contest was a great success. We received 51 entries that came from 48 states (including the District of Columbia), Guam, Saipan and Royal Air Force Lakenheath in England. Similar to last year’s contest, this year’s success can be contributed to the partnerships that we have established over the years. Fostering these partnerships has allowed us to expand upon the poster contests mission of raising awareness about child safety by reaching more communities across the U.S. We would like to especially thank our partnering organizations for their dedication and continued support for this important initiative. MECP would also like to recognize the 2015 national poster contest winner Sydney K, Grand Blanc, Michigan. A display of her artwork at the Missing Children’s Day Ceremony is pictured on the right.

Upcoming Events

July 5th– 10th, 2015 NASRO ConferenceThe National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) will hold its 25th annual School Safety Conference July 5-10, 2015 at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort in Orlando, Florida. The NASRO conference will bring together school resource officers, law enforcement, school security/safety professionals, school board members, school administrators, and others to receive superior training and networking opportunities. To learn more, please visit here.

July 13th -15th, Interview and Interrogation in Child Exploitation Cases: The AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program is offering a training in Lafayette, LA that will focus on Advanced Interview and Interrogation Techniques to be used in child exploitation cases. Participants will discuss an organized approach to interview and interrogation strategies that are developed through research and preparation. Modules will identify the role that cultural issues bring to the interview and interrogation room; legal considerations that the investigator must account for during the interview and interrogation; the dynamics of the interview process and how to detect deception. Participants will be presented with a case study where the outcome hinged on a successful interview and interrogation. To learn more, please visit here.

Training Center:

Request Training and Technical Assistance from MECP. MECP offers training and technical assistance tailored to meet the specific needs of State, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies, nonprofit organizations, and other juvenile justice practitioners. For information on how your agency or organization can receive training and technical assistance on missing and exploited children’s issues, please contact MECP at 1–888–347–5610 or [email protected] To submit a request for training and technical assistance, please complete a training and technical assistance form.

 [i] http://www.justice.gov/opa/speech/attorney-general-lynch-delivers-remarks-justice-departments-national-missing-childrens