Criminal Justice News

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Acting Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio Delivers Remarks at the 35th National Missing Children’s Day Ceremony

Thank you, Alan.  It’s my privilege to welcome everyone to the Department of Justice.

Let me begin by thanking Alan and Caren for their outstanding leadership in the Office of Justice Programs.  And my thanks to the staff of our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention for organizing today’s ceremony, and for all they do, every day, to keep our children safe.

I want to express my deep appreciation to John Clark and our friends at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.  The Department of Justice and the National Center have enjoyed a long and productive partnership that strengthens by the year.  We’ve teamed up to create some incredible public safety resources, like the CyberTipline and a 24-hour hotline that fields tens of thousands of calls each year.  There’s no question that our nation’s children are safer thanks to our alliance.

I also want to thank Russell Barnes for being an important part of our ceremony.  We so deeply regret the pain that your daughter’s murder has brought to you and your family.  Please know that we are inspired by your example of strength, and we are grateful to have you with us today.

And finally, let me congratulate the remarkable group of people we are honoring today:

    They are local and federal investigators who coordinated a complex child pornography and sexual abuse case going back to the 1970s.
    They are detectives who have found scores of missing children and who shut down a child pornography operation that had ensnared more than 40 victims.
    And one is a concerned citizen whose courage, compassion, and vigilance helped bring home an abducted baby.

Through both public service and private acts, these extraordinary individuals displayed ingenuity, resourcefulness, and an especially high order of civic responsibility.  They exemplify, and magnify, the dedication and professionalism of our law enforcement professionals, and they model what it means to be a good citizen.  We are fortunate – indeed, blessed – that they have chosen to apply their exceptional talents to the protection of our children.  The Department of Justice is proud to honor them today.

It is gratifying to be part of an agency that supports the excellent work of law enforcement officers and child advocates like so many of you in this room.

Through our Internet Crimes Against Children task force program, we are supporting more than 4,500 federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies nationwide as they combat computer-facilitated child exploitation.  ICAC task force investigations have led to the arrests of more than 83,000 individuals suspected of sexually exploiting children – more than 10,300 in the last year alone.  In 2017, the ICAC task forces conducted more than 66,000 investigations of technology-facilitated crimes against children and supported almost 2,000 regional law enforcement trainings.  Task force personnel have also given more than 12,800 presentations on Internet safety over the last year.

Another Justice Department effort, Project Safe Childhood, is maximizing the enforcement potential of our U.S. Attorneys’ offices, our Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, and federal and local law enforcement agencies to bring to justice those who use the Internet to exploit children.  Last week, we secured a guilty plea from a 26-year-old man who had spent months using social media to groom a 12-year-old girl and lured her into performing sexual acts.  The week before that, two Maryland men were sentenced to 26 years in prison for the sex trafficking of three underage girls.  Both cases were the product of collaboration between federal and local officials made possible by Project Safe Childhood.

I’m also very proud of our work with the AMBER Alert program.  AMBER Alert is a centerpiece of our child protection efforts and one of the most valuable public safety tools we have at our disposal.  Thanks to a strong network of law enforcement partners, transportation officials, and state coordinators, and an ever-expanding secondary distribution system of Internet providers and wireless carriers, the AMBER Alert program has helped to recover more than 920 abducted children.

We continue to make this vital public resource more effective, and more capable of reaching every community.  In particular, our efforts in Indian country are beginning to pay dividends.  The differing laws governing jurisdiction on tribal lands, coupled with the difficulty of patrolling vast spaces, pose unusual challenges to the recovery of missing American Indian children.  But these obstacles should never prevent us from coming to the aid of a child in danger.  None of us here accept them as an excuse for what happened to Ashlynne Mike, the 11-year-old Navajo girl who was abducted and murdered two years ago.

We are working with tribal officials and our partners at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to strengthen tribes’ capacity to respond to these cases.  So far, we’ve trained more than 1,500 tribal first responders and child protection professionals, and we now have a tribal database that serves as a one-stop shop of training and other resources.  And just last month, President Trump signed into law the Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act.  This new law makes critical resources available to protect American Indian children and, we hope, will spare others the loss and suffering endured by Ashlynne’s family.

We remember so many others who have gone missing, as well.  Last year, more than 460,000 reports of missing children were entered in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center.  That’s almost half-a-million entries in a single year.

It would be easy to feel overwhelmed by these numbers.  A single case involving a missing or exploited child can be complicated, time-intensive, and resource-draining.  Multiplied into the thousands, the problem can seem hopeless.

But it isn’t.  The professionals we’re honoring today have shown what an enormous difference a well-constructed investigation can make – in the life of one child, a dozen children, scores of children in a single case.  These skilled detectives epitomize the tenacity and resolve of investigators across the country – federal, state, local, and tribal officials working together to find missing and exploited children and bring them home to safety.

We are so appreciative of what they have managed to accomplish, and of what all of you are able to do every day.  On behalf of the Attorney General and the more than 113,000 employees of the Department of Justice, we are grateful to you for protecting our children, and we pledge to stand with you as you continue your work to achieve a safer, a more just, and a more compassionate nation.  You are all heroes, and we stand by you.

Thank you.

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