When a child runs away, the rules are simple: an officer runs to a computer.
But the Justice Department’s failure to report how many missing children are reported to the FBI each year has caused a number of police departments to become lackadaisical in their reporting.
In the Prince William County area, though, local police departments are intent on following the national standards for reporting missing children, established in the National Child Search Assistance Act of 1990.
“There is no waiting or anything,” said officer John Bogert, a spokesman for the Prince William County police spokesman. “When a child is missing for any reason, even a simple runaway, we put the information into a national database that any law enforcement department in the country can access.”
The federal act states that any child under the age of 18 reported to the agency is required to be reported to the Department of Justice, which happens through the FBI, and the procedures are established by the attorney general.
The Manassas City and Manassas Park police departments follow these standards, along with Prince William County police, according to spokespersons.
When a child either runs away or is lost or kidnapped, local police enter the child’s information into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database, which is run by the FBI. The information is then automatically sent to the Virginia Criminal Information Network (VCIN), which is run by the state police.
If an officer in another jurisdiction comes across a child who is believed to be away from the proper guardian, they can enter the child’s name and see if the child is indeed missing.
“We can put anything in the computer that may help, including allergies to medication or past history,” said Sgt. Karen Barton, spokeswoman for the Manassas Park police department, which had 55 reported runaways between Aug. 1, 2004 and Aug. 1, 2005. “It’s a great help.”
Several police departments, including the New York City Police Department, have not entered missing children into the proper databases on time, claiming that most runaways are found within 24 hours and they do not want to go to the trouble.
Child advocacy groups, though, say most children who are kidnapped are slain in the first 24 hours of their disappearance.
Prince William County and Manassas City police did not release the number of missing children reports they have filed in the past year, but according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, there are currently three children from the Prince William County area missing.
Staff writer David Stegon can be reached at (703) 878-8065.