By THOMAS HARGROVE
Scripps Howard News Service
March 09, 2006
Fifty-eight percent of the missing children reported to federal authorities in 2005 were girls, according to the FBI report, and 33 percent were black - a disproportionately high percentage that surprised advocates for missing children.
"These are very interesting and important statistics," said sociologist David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. "This shows a pretty dramatic over-representation of black kids."
The FBI in the last two weeks released the records at the request of Scripps Howard News Service. The records show that missing-children cases - at least those actually reported to the FBI - have been declining during the past 10 years, down from a peak of 791,687 cases in 1995.
But the number of cases bumped up 7 percent in 2005 after several police departments began for the first time to immediately report missing children. These departments admitted they'd been violating federal law by delaying their reports to the FBI - often in hopes the children will return home on their own - or by entirely ignoring cases of suspected runaways. Missing-children advocates warn that police must intervene quickly - usually within hours - to prevent homicides in stranger-abduction cases.
Finkelhor called the release of the FBI files "a real coup." He said he is contacting missing-children advocates nationwide to rally support for more detailed data in future FBI reports.
"This might be a very auspicious moment to make some recommendations about what we think ought to be regularly available," Finkelhor said.
The FBI steadfastly maintained for many years that computer records at the National Crime Information Center are confidential, and rarely made missing-children data public. That policy violated provisions of the National Child Search Assistance Act of 1990, which requires annual statistical summaries to assure Congress that local police are obeying its mandate that missing-children cases be "immediately" reported to state and federal authorities.
Scripps Howard News Service first contacted federal officials about the FBI's failure in May. The FBI reversed its policy in December and promised to issue public accountings of missing children annually.
"The important thing isn't who gets the blame for this. The important thing is to correct this in the future," FBI Special Agent Richard Kolko said then.
The bureau still refuses Scripps Howard's request for geographic information showing where children are reported missing. A Scripps Howard study last year of records at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children found that dozens of major police departments, including New York City's, violate federal law by waiting days or even weeks before reporting missing children to state and federal authorities.
"We've never done this. It's not our place to give out report cards on the states," FBI senior spokesman Paul Bresson said last week.
But other kinds of data the bureau has recently released provide never-before-seen details about missing-children cases.
Most curious is the discovery that a third of missing-children records for 2005 were of black children, nearly three times blacks' share of the general population. Previous estimates based on Finkelhor's studies and records at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children suggested that black children account for about a fifth of the nation's missing children.
"That certainly does not parallel previous estimates," Finkelhor said. "It may be that communities where blacks live tend to be heavily policed. Black parents may rely upon police more (than other groups) when their kids go missing. There also may be simply more missing-child episodes among black families."
Missing-children experts have long known that runaway children are disproportionately female. Teenage girls mature much faster than boys and are more likely to want to leave home before reaching their legal majority, 18 in most states.
The FBI data shows that two-thirds of all missing-children reports were for 15-, 16- or 17-year-old youths. Only 2,223 infants were reported last year.
The files also show that local police classified 16,897 cases - or slightly less than 3 percent - as "endangered," meaning authorities feared the children had been kidnapped or were in the company of a dangerous adult.
Distributed to subscribers for publication by
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com
Publish A Letter on SitNews Read Letters/Opinions