D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Chief of Police Peter Newsham are addressing an alarming problem in the city: the number of young girls, mostly black and Latina teenagers, who go missing each week. While the problem has existed for quite some time, the disappearance of Relisha Rudd 3 years ago brought DC’s situation to national prominence. Recently, police have heightened attention to these cases by tweeting every single missing person report. While some people believe the number of cases has increased, the police say that only the public reports have increased, the actual number of cases remains roughly the same. However, in a city where people breathlessly hang onto news about the latest hot new bar opening or presidential golf outing, sometimes we seem to suffer a dearth of interest, compassion, and justifiable outrage over the conditions and consequences of life for children who struggle to live each day on the margins just a few blocks over from trendy new neighborhoods.
This is a problem of great concern to Trinity because of the way in which it has the potential to affect our students and their families, as well as faculty and staff. And, given our mission to work to achieve social justice, especially for girls and women, we must consider ways in which Trinity can offer assistance and support to the Mayor’s effort. We are particularly concerned about the root causes of the disappearance of young black and brown women in our city, whether through violence or efforts to escape violence and despair, and spectre of human trafficking. The Congressional Black Caucus has asked the Justice Department and FBI to lend their resources to helping to solve the problem.
Awareness is the first step. Some of the notoriety about this problem has occurred because the Metropolitan Police Department has started tweeting out a notice about every single missing person in the city. You can follow the MPD Twitter feed @DCPoliceDept
MPD also has a web page devoted to the missing persons list with active links to each case.
I urge members of the Trinity community to take a look at that list and to call the police or text tips per these instructions on the MPD website: “If you have information about any of these cases, please conact the Metropolitan Police Department at (202) 727-9099 or text your tip to the Department’s TEXT TIP LINE to 50411.”
Mayor Bowser’s office issued a press release on Friday that includes these six steps she is taking to improve efforts to identify, locate and help missing persons and especially children and teenagers:
- Initiative 1: Increase the Number of MPD Officers Assigned to Children and Family Services Division: MPD will increase officer staffing of the Children and Family Services Division. The newly assigned officers will share the responsibility of locating youth who have been reported missing. Additional officers may be provided through the Senior Police Officer Program, detailing of officers from other divisions, particularly officers who have previously served in this division, or the use of school resource officers.
- Initiative 2: Expansion of the MPD Missing Persons Webpage and Social Media Messaging to Include Case Catalog with Broader Information: The current MPD Missing Persons website includes a tally of cases and very general information on each open case which is compiled into a Critical Missing flyer. Effective immediately, the updated MPD site will share more information about missing youth including: the circumstances of the child (abduction, parent abducted, child left home/school/other), the MPD officer assigned to the case, and more images. When the child is located, the date will be noted.
- Initiative 3: Establish the Missing Persons Evaluation and Reconnection Resources Collaborative:The Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA), the Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants (OVSJG), and identified community-based organizations will assist MPD with instituting a comprehensive evaluation of youth who are found or return home to assess the circumstances around their departure and to provide any additional resources/support/services necessary for the health and well-being of the child and the family. A proposed citywide response and protocol will be created by a director level working group to serve all youth who have been reported missing and their families. This protocol will provide supports to the family while the child is missing. It will also ensure that young people and families are assessed appropriately and linked to resources that will enable successful reunification and sustainable family relationships that prevent repeat run away cases.
- Initiative 4: OVSJG and CFSA Lead Working Group: OVSJG and the CFSA will lead a director level working group to analyze individual open cases, assess and analyze trends, and manage resource requests. A preliminary meeting has already taken place, and the group identified the following goals:
- develop a protocol to ensure that every runaway youth, upon return, is assessed and the reason for leaving established;
- work on creating a process that will ensure support for families while a child is missing and services available when he/she returns; and
- identify prevention efforts with families, schools, the Summer Youth Employment Program, and others.
- Initiative 5: DMHHS and OVSJGA Additional Grant Support for Non-Profits Addressing Runaway Youth:OVSJGA and the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services (DMHHS) will identify and promote grant funding to both advocacy and community-based organizations. DMHHS will release its latest round of Safer, Stronger DC grants, and OVSJGA will identify additional grant funding for advocacy and nonprofits with resources for runaway youth and their parents/guardians. The Mayor’s Budget Office is in the process of identifying existing resources for grants that can be distributed expeditiously.
- Initiative 6: PSA Announcement to Support Public Education Addressing Missing Youth in DC: The Mayor’s Office of Communication and the Office of Cable Television, Film, Music & Entertainment (OCTFME) will create and promote the 800RUNAWAY hotline and website for youth and their parents/guardians through public service announcements. In addition, the OVSJG and CFSA Lead Working Group will work on identifying prevention efforts to educate young people.
If you know of any member of the Trinity family who is worried about a missing family member, please call the police directly or you may speak with me or others on Trinity’s leadership team who will get you help.
If you have ideas about ways in which Trinity might participate more pro=actively in addressing the root causes of these issues, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or submit a comment below.
This seems like a good moment to review Trinity’s Missing Student Policy. If you are concerned about another student, please notify Dr. Karen Gerlach, Dean Meechie Bowie, Provost Carlota Ocampo or other campus officials who will notify Dr. Gerlach and Campus Safety. We will make every effort to contact a missing student and we must call the police no later than 24 hours after the report.
We urge every student to be sure that someone knows your whereabouts at all times, and to let a friend or classmate know (as well as your faculty members!) if you need to be absent from class or campus for more than a day.
Let’s work together, and with the Mayor and police to help improve conditions for children and young people in our city.