Thank you, Beth [McGarry], for that very kind introduction – and for your exceptional commitment, unwavering passion and steadfast devotion to the well-being of America’s children. I want to thank Bob [Listenbee] not only for his role in organizing this important event every year, but also for his dedicated leadership at the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, or OJJDP. I want to express my gratitude to John Clark, President and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC); to Retired Sergeant Mark Simpson, formerly with the Arlington, Texas, Police Department; and to Sayeh Rivazfar, whose extraordinary activism and brave advocacy is born of her own experience as a survivor of abduction. Finally, I’d like to thank all of you who have come together to be a part of this deeply important event.
Every year since National Missing Children’s Day was established more than three decades ago, we have come together to honor heroic and exemplary efforts to protect children. That work goes on day in and day out. It is performed by agencies, organizations and individuals around the country. And though it is far from easy – and seldom brings the recognition it deserves – it is fundamental to the values of our nation and inextricably linked to the kind of future we will build together: one in which no parent must experience the nightmare of losing a child; one in which no community must endure the horror of abduction or exploitation; and one in which every child, in every neighborhood, can live and grow in safety without fear.
Building that future and realizing its promise is one of my top priorities as Attorney General, and at the Department of Justice we are deeply focused on that work. Through the Federal Agency Task Force on Missing and Exploited Children, we are improving collaboration among the department’s partners and promoting the delivery of federal services for parents and law enforcement, child services and other professionals. Through the Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking in the United States, we are taking coordinated steps alongside other federal agencies to ensure that our response to victims of human trafficking is more coordinated, more comprehensive and more effective than ever before. And as the Internet has become an ever-greater tool for those who would harm the most vulnerable in our communities, the Department of Justice has focused additional resources on combating exploitation that involves technology and cyberspace. Our Internet Crimes Against Children task forces unite more than 3,500 federal, state and local law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies against child exploitations that take place over the Internet. Since their inception, task force investigations have led to the arrest of more than 62,000 individuals suspected of sexually exploiting children – including more than 8,700 in 2015 alone. These task forces are also critical to education – and over the last year, they have made more than 13,000 presentations on Internet safety and supported more than 2,300 regional law enforcement trainings on child exploitation.
We have also forged productive collaborations with vital collaborators like NCMEC – an extraordinary organization that works every day to save lives and restore futures for children across the country, and promotes a range of important programs and initiatives from autism safety to wandering prevention training for law enforcement. NCMEC has been a truly outstanding partner: during FY2015, their hotline received more than 167,000 calls; their CyberTipline made nearly 3.8 million reports regarding apparent child sexual exploitation or online harm to children available to law enforcement; and helped law enforcement identify more than 10,000 victims of child pornography. In the same year, they also helped to resolve the cases of more than 12,500 children who had been reported missing, giving assistance to law enforcement officers and comfort to families around the country.
NCMEC is also a key partner in the AMBER Alert program, which rapidly notifies the public when a law enforcement agency determines that a child has been abducted and is in imminent danger. The AMBER Alert system is one of the most visible recovery mechanisms in the United States, as well as one of the most successful. As of this week, 822 children have been recovered through AMBER Alerts – meaning 822 futures have been restored and hundreds of families have been made whole again. And our commitment to rescuing missing children does not stop at the border. I am proud to say that our Department of Justice has collaborated with the Attorney General of Mexico on the development of Mexico’s AMBER Alert System, which has already resulted in the rescue of hundreds of Mexican children. In fact, we helped to arrange a meeting that will occur tomorrow in Mexico between experts from the AMBER Alert systems of the United States, Mexico and Canada to discuss how we can better coordinate across North America.
In the days to come, we will only build upon our efforts. In April, I was proud to announce the publication of the department’s National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction – a nationwide blueprint that examines existing efforts, assesses new threats and plots a course ahead. It identifies innovative ways in which the federal government and its partners can address child exploitation. And it reaffirms our unwavering commitment to ensuring that every child in America is able to reach his or her potential, free of violence and abuse. This strategy was formulated over the course of a year by an interagency working group that drew upon the expertise of law enforcement at all levels, as well as the experience and knowledge of non-governmental stakeholders, and I will continue to work with all of them – and all of you – to move our vital efforts forward.
And we will move forward – of that I am certain. Because no matter who we are or where we live, we all share a basic concern for the safety and well-being of our young people. Their welfare is the most telling measure of our nation’s success – and their potential is the most promising element of its future. It is up to us – all of us – to safeguard that future.
I pledge that the Department of Justice will continue to do its part in this effort. I pledge that we will continue to use every resource at our disposal to find children who have gone missing, to shield them from violence and abuse and to create vibrant and nurturing communities where they can thrive. And I pledge that we will continue to work with skilled and engaged partners like you to deepen the partnerships that we have forged and to build upon the progress that we have made – so that together, we can advance steadily towards a brighter, safer and more just future – for our children and for generations of children to come.
I want to thank you, once again, for your commitment to that future and your dedication to this vital cause. I look forward to all that we will accomplish together in the days ahead.
It is now my privilege to present one of the awards being conferred today. The Attorney General’s Special Commendation recognizes the extraordinary efforts of an Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force, an ICAC affiliate agency or an individual assigned to an ICAC task force or affiliate agency for making a significant investigative or program contribution to the ICAC task force program.
In January 2015, the Arizona ICAC Task Force, working with the Phoenix Police Department and the FBI’s Sexual Exploitation Unit, opened an investigation of a Phoenix woman suspected of sexually abusing two small boys in her care, photographing the abuse and uploading and sharing the images online. Forensic investigation of the woman’s cell phone determined that she was in constant communication with others who were interested in sexually abusing the boys. The woman was arrested and the two boys were rescued. As the scope of the investigation grew, the Arizona task force worked with the FBI, NCMEC, other ICAC task forces, state and local law enforcement agencies across the United States and law enforcement agencies in several other countries to identify new suspects and pursue new leads. The subsequent investigation located a suspect in the United Kingdom who was abusing and exploiting a child in his care. The man was arrested and the child was rescued. Further investigation identified three additional suspects in Arizona, including one who was a convicted sex offender, and one suspect in Oregon. To date, Operation Optimus Prime – as the investigation is known – has resulted in the arrest of more than 25 suspects. This investigation is ongoing and the task force continues to generate leads, suspects and arrests around the world.
For its extraordinary efforts and outstanding work, the Arizona ICAC Task Force has received the Attorney General’s Special Commendation. Accepting the award on behalf of the ICAC team is Detective Randall Snyder of the Pinal County, Arizona, Sheriff’s Office. Congratulations, and please join us on stage.
Congratulations, once again, to you and your colleagues, and congratulations to all of the outstanding award recipients here today. I want to thank you all, once more, for your hard work, for your passion and for your unwavering commitment to this noble cause. I urge you to keep up the great work.