U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs

Cybele K. Daley, Acting Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs

Southeast Conference on Missing and Exploited Children Conference
Ft. Myers, FL
November 30, 2005

I'm pleased to be here representing the Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs on behalf of Assistant Attorney General Regina Schofield.

I want to pass along Assistant Attorney General Schofield's regrets for not being able to join you today. As I told the AMBER Alert coordinators this morning, she's at home taking care of a brand new baby girl, born just a couple of weeks ago. Our best wishes to her and her baby.

My thanks to Congressman [Mark] Foley for hosting this conference. I appreciate his commitment to protecting children and to supporting us in the criminal justice community.

Ron [Laney], thanks again to you and your colleagues in the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention for putting together this conference. As always, you've done a terrific job.

I also want to thank Fox Valley Technical College and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children for their role in bringing us all together. Fox Valley has done its usual outstanding job of providing the training and the logistical support. And it's hard to imagine doing anything related to child protection that doesn't include Ernie Allen and his very capable staff at NCMEC.

I appreciate the chance to talk about an issue that is of prime importance to the Office of Justice Programs and the Department of Justice - the safety of our children.

As part of an agency whose mission is to help ensure public safety, Assistant Attorney General Schofield and I consider the welfare of our young people one of OJP's key responsibilities. We believe that our ability to help protect children is the true test of our effectiveness.

We're fortunate in the Department and in this Administration to have a few highly placed people who view our job of child protection not only in professional, but in very personal terms.

Having just given birth to her second child, Assistant Attorney General Schofield sees nothing more important than the health and the safety of our children.

Thankfully, her views are shared by her bosses, who also have children. Attorney General Gonzales is the father of three sons, and you can bet that every decision he makes is informed by his devotion to his children.

And then there's President Bush, who is the father of two grown daughters. He understands that the future of our country belongs to our children, and he believes that we have no greater responsibility than to protect them.

The safety and welfare of America's children is a concern for everyone in this Administration, and we are all mindful of the many challenges facing you as you work to keep kids safe.

Those challenges are greater than ever. To be sure, children have always been vulnerable to criminal threats. But the threats they face today take many forms.

Predators against children have become more cunning and calculating. They have found secret ways of infiltrating our homes and invading our children's lives.

New technologies have made them bolder and their crimes more sinister. Our jobs, both as parents and as professionals, are more difficult than ever before.

At the same time, we in the justice community have become smarter about meeting these threats. We've learned a great deal about the causes and the consequences of crime. We've become wiser about allocating our resources. And, perhaps most important, we've learned to rely on one another and to build alliances.

In my view, the most positive development in crime-fighting over the last decade has not been better technology, better science, or even more and better-trained law enforcement and prosecutors. The best thing to happen in criminal justice over the last ten years is the broad expansion of partnerships between law enforcement, community organizations, and citizens themselves.

A perfect example of collaboration is the AMBER Alert program.

As many of you know, Assistant Attorney General Schofield is the AMBER Alert National Coordinator, and she and I are working closely together to strengthen the nationwide AMBER Alert network.

Even during a time of growing partnerships, AMBER is unique. There's no other way to describe a union of law enforcement agencies, broadcasters, transportation departments, and the public. A few years ago, that would have seemed a strange sort of marriage. But even stranger is the fact that - guess what - it works!

And not only does it work, but it's become a force to be reckoned with.

AMBER is so impressive not only because it's helped to save so many children - 231 as of today's count, but because it has given would-be abductors fewer and fewer opportunities for committing crimes.

A recent AMBER Alert provides a perfect case-in-point. Back in September, a man in Copley, Ohio abducted his one-year-old daughter after a violent argument with her mother. The man was known to be involved in drugs, so officials issued an AMBER Alert. Press coverage was so extensive that the man returned to the family and dropped off the child.

These are the kinds of results that AMBER is producing: sending a powerful message to abductors that there really is nowhere to hide. AMBER is now a deterrent to would-be abductors.

It's been three years since AMBER became a nationally coordinated effort, and the progress we've made has been astounding.

In November 2002, only four states had statewide AMBER plans in place. Today, all 50 states have such a plan. Child abductors no longer have a safe haven in the United States.

And what's even more remarkable is that its full potential is not yet realized. We're still bringing in partners, from the public as well as the private sector.

Through the good work of NCMEC, we've obtained agreements with online service providers and communication companies to distribute alert information through their users. This secondary distribution mechanism gives us innumerable eyes and ears.

And we built substantially on that effort with the Wireless AMBER Alerts Initiative, which is an exciting method for secondary distribution of AMBER Alerts.

Through NCMEC and The Wireless Foundation, we've partnered with the wireless industry to enable subscribers to receive alerts via text messages. This initiative alone will give us access to 190 million wireless subscribers and will expand our alliance exponentially.

This is the way it works: wireless subscribers whose wireless devices are capable of receiving text messages can opt in to receive wireless AMBER Alerts free-of-charge by registering with their carrier. When they opt in, subscribers provide their wireless phone numbers, including area code, and designate up to five zip codes for which they want to receive a text message alert in those areas.

We've encouraged people to register by posting a wireless icon on the AMBER Alert Web site: www.amberalert.gov. Visitors can click on the icon "found," and they will be walked through a simple process. We've tried to make it as easy as possible to register.

OJP has also written letters to more than 50 national groups and asked that they post the icon on their Web sites. And we've reached out to each of the governors and state attorneys general to ask that they encourage citizens of their states to register. Thirteen states, Florida among them, have placed the icon on their Web sites. And, as I told the AMBER coordinators this morning, Governor Bush went a step further by holding a public event where he urged Florida residents to participate.

We're working to strengthen AMBER in other ways. One of our goals for the coming year is to involve Canadian and Mexican authorities in our efforts. Just as abductors don't heed state boundaries when they flee with children, they also don't respect international borders. We've included the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Mexican state police in our new AMBER working group. We'll work actively with them to make them part of our network.

And we're beginning to work with tribal officials to eliminate the jurisdictional obstacles that can arise if an abductor crosses into Tribal lands, or vice versa.

Finally, we're exploring ways to improve our response to missing and abducted children who don't fall within the purview of AMBER.

I just returned from a press announcement, where we announced OJP funding of ten regional Child Abduction Response Teams, or CARTs. CARTS provide a mechanism for responding to cases involving missing and abducted children, many of whom do not meet the criteria for an AMBER Alert.

Several states, including Florida, have programs like these, and we will be working to help design similar mechanisms in the remaining states.

One more word about AMBER: January 13 marks the 10th year since Amber Hagerman was abducted (and murdered). We are planning some activities to commemorate Amber and to promote efforts geared to improve the AMBER Alert network. We hope that you, too, will use that day as an opportunity to raise awareness about your efforts to protect children.

Efforts to recover missing and abducted children are part of an overall OJP and Justice Department strategy to keep children safe.

Back in July, we launched the National Sex Offender Public Registry. As you may know, all states have sex offender registries. Their purpose is to give parents and concerned citizens access to information that will help protect their children.

Until now, though, Americans have never been able to initiate a search across states. To be sure that someone was not a sex offender, a member of the public would have to go to each state site individually. The Attorney General thought something was wrong with the idea of making people do that kind of leg work to protect their kids.

So we went to work to create a free, easy-to-use Web site that would link all state and territory public sex offender registries. Today, with the addition of Maine and North Carolina, we now have 37 states, the District of Columbia, and the territory of Guam linked to the site. The remaining states are working to sign on in the coming months. Once they do, users will have instant access to information on all 500,000 registered sex offenders in the United States.

It's important to note that the national registry is not a separate repository. The information is controlled and maintained by the states. The national registry simply standardizes the data and allows that data to flow smoothly from the different state registries. But it doesn't cost the states a dime.

But, as I suggested earlier, shielding children from harm and exploitation today involves more than keeping them out of physical proximity to criminals. It also involves monitoring what goes on in the home, specifically with computers and the Internet. And this is so important as parents are juggling more responsibilities than ever before.

We are working to help parents meet this additional responsibility. We're providing more information on Internet safety to children and parents. We're creating filters and other controls that prevent criminal access to children. And we're giving children places to turn for help when they are approached by criminals in cyberspace.

NCMEC and OJP together have provided critical support to law enforcement in their efforts to crack down on Internet crimes. Tomorrow, you'll hear from Bob Flores, Administrator of our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, about the Internet Crimes Against Children, or ICAC, Task Force Program.

ICAC is one of the Department's major efforts to crack down on cybercrime. The program is helping federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies develop effective responses to cybercrime by providing resources to aid in preventing and investigating these crimes against children.

We're also engaging in other efforts to protect children. Back in the late summer, our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention awarded more than $6 million to 15 communities nationwide under its Safe Start Promising Approaches for Children Exposed to Violence program.

Safe Start works to curb children's exposure to violence by improving cooperation and collaboration between service providers, law enforcement officials, mental health professionals, and representatives of the juvenile justice system. Its goal is to create a comprehensive system of services for young people and their families to blunt the impact of the violence that surrounds them.

We know how very vulnerable children are, and we know that proximity to crime and violence can have a devastating effect on growth and development. Safe Start will give children in these communities the chance for a healthy beginning.

These are some, but by no means all, of the efforts we've undertaken to protect children. We're doing a great deal, but protecting children will require our continued vigilance and hard work.

We will continue to look to each of you for guidance as we shape new initiatives. And we hope you will turn to us for information and help as you seek to meet the threats that criminals pose to children. Only by working together will we achieve success.

As Attorney General Gonzales has said, and I quote, "There is no greater measure of our nation's compassion or our humanity as a people than how we protect, raise, and care for our children." Indeed, what better standard of our worth could we establish than the welfare and safety of our young people?

Thank you.

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