Thank you, Laurie [Robinson], for your kind words and for your leadership in serving families, children and communities in need. You, and your staff in the Office of Justice Programs, have brought the Justice Department’s capabilities and outreach efforts to a new level, at a time when they’re needed most.
I also want to thank Jeff [Slowikowski] for his outstanding stewardship of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. I’m consistently impressed by, and grateful for, all Jeff and his team are doing to bring together families, advocates, law enforcement officers and policymakers – including many of those we’re honored to have with us today.
I’m pleased to welcome each of you. And I’m especially grateful that Commissioner Pierluisi, Director Sullivan, Inspector General Bell, Director Clarke, Chief Postal Inspector Gilligan and Deputy Inspector General Stephens have joined us.
Let me also extend a special welcome to Ernie Allen. As all of you know well, Ernie’s vision for and leadership of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has helped to build one of the country’s – and, now, the world’s – most effective and important nonprofits.
Last fiscal year alone, the National Center answered nearly 90,000 calls on its Missing Child Hotline and assisted in the recovery of nearly 14,000 children. Since its creation, it has helped to recover more than 145,000 kids.
The Justice Department is proud to count the National Center as a partner. And, today, I’m pleased to announce an award to the National Center of more than $30 million to support and continue its critical work.
As we consider how these new resources will enhance our future efforts, I am reminded that ten years ago today – May 25, 2000 – I spoke at that year’s National Missing Children’s Day, when I served as Deputy Attorney General. Although a full decade has passed, that afternoon stands out rather vividly.
“In my heart,” I said, “I believe the most enduring and important” work of the Department “is…protecting children. Our kids need safe homes, streets, and schools, where they can learn and grow into productive members of our society.” One decade later, I still believe that as strongly and deeply as ever. Fortunately, all of you do, too.
So many of you help to lead this work – both the award recipients we honor today, as well as the unsung heroes who work, day in and day out, to recover missing children and bring families back together. Many of the advocates here in this Great Hall have turned tragedy in their own homes into a commitment, and opportunity, to help others. Many of the officers have found ways to fuse cutting-edge technologies with traditional methods of law enforcement and recovery – harnessing the Internet in new ways while never losing sight of the value of knocking on doors and tacking up posters across town. And all of you have been strong, empathetic, and utterly determined in the face of devastating circumstances and difficult odds.
And you’ve made a difference. Today, we honor an FBI special agent who utilized every imaginable recovery technique in a heroic effort to find a 2-year-old girl who’d been taken from her parents; an Assistant District Attorney who summoned the compassion and courage necessary to ensure the recovery of a sexual assault victim and the imprisonment of her offender; and employees of a postal facility who went above and beyond the call of duty to recover an abducted 9-year-old.
These examples, of course, are only a snapshot of what’s been accomplished by the people in and beyond this room. There are so many encouraging stories; and there are countless inspiring examples. In every case, however, we see a common theme: people devoting their energy, time, and talent to help children and families in need.
It’s worth saying again that supporting and advancing this work is, and will continue to be, a top priority for the Department of Justice. Before the media, before the experts, before anyone else, families in crisis turn – first – to law enforcement. In these officers, desperate parents, grandparents, and guardians place their trust, as well as their hopes of seeing their missing children again. It’s an extraordinary responsibility – one that our law enforcement community meets with great speed, compassion, and determination.
Before I spoke at this event in 2000, we had spent the prior years laying important groundwork for transforming our approach to handling incidents of missing children. Following the foundation of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, our nation saw the rise of grassroots charities in every state. And the Justice Department took bold action as well. In 1995, the Department launched the Federal Agency Task Force, and, in 1998, the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Program. These efforts helped to solidify key partnerships between law enforcement, families, and advocates – and they led to a paradigm shift in our approach to solving this national problem.
But over the past decade, I’m proud to report that we’ve made even greater strides. For example, the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Program has grown from ten task forces in 1998 to 61 today. Last year’s Recovery Act invested $50 million in Internet Crimes Against Children initiatives. And nearly a quarter of a billion dollars has been awarded to the task forces to expand the number of investigators, analysts, and support staff on the front lines of efforts to keep our kids safe.
The Federal Agency Task Force has seen meaningful growth, further streamlining our work to ensure that missing children are recovered quickly and their abductors are punished swiftly. There are now Missing Children Clearinghouses in every state, and the Department works with all of them to foster collaboration and communication. And we’re continuing to update our resources and support literature for parents and families. That said, I’d like to recognize Patty Wetterling for her co-authorship of the original Family Survival Guide – which has been a service to so many families in need – and for her recent work to modernize the guide for 2010. Thank you, Patty.
In gatherings all across the country today, we not only celebrate our progress, but we also reflect on the one disappearance that started it all – and spurred our nation to long-overdue action: the abduction of six-year-old Etan Patz from Lower Manhattan, 31 years ago today. May 25th, 1979, began like any normal day – breakfast around the table, gathering supplies for school. Then, as with so many tragic cases, “normal” rapidly devolved into “nightmare.” Etan’s loss, and his family’s heartbreak, helped to spark an historic commitment and inspired a national missing children's movement that has brought new legislation, new awareness, and new methods for tracking down missing kids and brining them home.
Today, each of you honors Etan’s memory, and the lives of every lost and missing child, with your commitment and your selfless contributions.
The extraordinary efforts of our awardees – and the many advocates, policymakers, and law enforcement officials here today – have awakened family after family from these nightmares, and, when there can be no solace, helped them to recover from unthinkable loss.
On behalf of the Department, I am proud to call all of you partners. And I’m grateful for your help in achieving the progress that’s been made over the past decade. As I said in 2000 – and as I continue to believe today – there is no more important priority that we, as stewards of our nation’s justice system and protectors of our communities, have than bringing our kids home.
Thank you all. And congratulations to this year’s awardees.