Monday marked the 20th annual Florida Missing Children’s Day. It was not only a time to remember those still missing and those forever gone, the day also honors the state’s efforts.
“We remember the children, those whose lives have been taken and those who are missing,” said Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen.
Each year, Swearingen says officials take the time to remember the state’s missing children.
“The Missing Children’s Day serves as a day of remembrance,” he added. “It is also a day of hope. It’s a day to recognize how Floridians are fighting to bring our missing children home and make child abduction a thing of the past. As the first state to institute a Missing Person’s Clearinghouse in 1982, Florida led the way in creating a nationwide standard for effectively handling missing person’s cases.”
And, Swearingen says his agency has made strides in returning kids safely home. That includes issuing Missing Child Alerts as well as AMBER Alerts, when there’s a clear indication the child has been abducted.
“In 2017, FDLE’s Missing and Endangered Persons Information Clearinghouse issued 10 AMBER alerts and 51 Missing Child Alerts,” he continued. “14 of those alerts were directly responsible for the safe recovery of those children. In addition, Florida has now certified its 7th Child Abduction Response Team, also known as CART. Currently, there are 23 CARTs nationwide. Florida has seven of them.”
During this year’s ceremony of the 20th annual Florida Missing Children’s Day, several kids won awards for their efforts to help other children.
One boy won a billboard contest, while another girl from South Florida received the “Young Hero Award” for helping to prevent the abduction of fellow classmates through her quick thinking.
A West Gadsden Middle School student also won this year’s essay contest called “This is how I stay safe all day.” Below is an excerpt:
“To start with, make sure you know your parent’s contact information, including your address, parent’s full names, and phone numbers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to kids who don’t even know their parent’s phone numbers. Some say they have it locked into their phone, but if you don’t have your phone, you don’t really have a lot to go on. It’s a good deal to have at least one phone number.”
And, the awards didn’t stop there. A couple adult Florida citizens were also honored for making strides in advocating for at-risk youth and on behalf of victims.
But, a majority of the awards went to law enforcement officers across the state. They included Detective Bernadette Maher, recognized for her efforts to combat human trafficking.
She’s part of a new Human Trafficking Task Force for the Miami Beach Police Department. Donna Uzzell is FDLE’s Special Agent in Charge.
She says because of Maher’s hard work, dozens of dangerous criminals are off the streets and a number of underage victims are safe.
“Detective Maher is responsible for 45 percent of the arrests made in all of the 2017 human trafficking prosecuted by the Miami Dade State Attorney’s Office,” she said. “Between January 2017 to April of this year, Detective Maher’s investigations have led to the arrest of over 40 human trafficking suspects each, with at least one victim in their company.”
When looking at calls to the national human trafficking hotline and prosecutions, Florida ranks third in the nation for human trafficking.
For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.