Monday, May 26, 2008

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Attorney General Abbott Launches Child Safety Initiative to Protect Texas Kids

ROUND ROCK – Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) today launched a new child safety initiative designed to help protect Texas children. The effort relies on cutting-edge technology to ensure parents can readily access critical information needed by authorities in the event a child goes missing.

To kickoff the initiative, Attorney General Abbott handed out special child identification software-enhanced flash drives at Dell Diamond. The drives, which were developed by Family Trusted Child ID, allow parents to digitally store their children’s recent photographs and other identifying information. After giving away drives to families as they entered the Memorial Day Round Rock Express game, Attorney General Abbott threw out the game’s ceremonial first pitch.

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Child ID video

When a child goes missing, law enforcement authorities need quick access to information that helps investigators identify the missing child. The flash drives distributed by NCMEC and the Office of the Attorney General ensure that parents have critically important information readily available in the event the worst happens. Funding for the drives was made possible by Dell Inc., McAfee, AT&T and Microsoft Corp., all of which made generous contributions to NCMEC.

“When a child goes missing, every second counts,” Attorney General Abbott said. “By storing photographs and identifying information on these flash drives, parents save precious time and ensure that authorities can start the search effort immediately. The sooner a search begins, the quicker a missing child can be found and brought home.”

Each flash drive stores information for up to 10 children. Parents can use the flash drives to download essential identifying information, including: recent digital photos, height, weight, address, e-mail addresses, parents’ names and other important details. In the event of an emergency, the flash drives are designed to provide quick information to law enforcement authorities, who can use the stored information to quickly publish Amber Alerts and launch other community search efforts. Nationwide, the Amber Alert system has saved the lives of nearly 400 children.

Attorney General Abbott was joined by Ed Smart, whose daughter Elizabeth went missing in June 2002 and was rescued nine months later. Since his daughter’s return, Mr. Smart has been a national leader in the fight to protect and rescue other missing children. Mr. Smart indicated that quicker access to his daughter's identifying information would have saved hours of time, allowing the search effort to begin sooner.

“When a child goes missing, panic may overwhelm parents and delay law enforcement officers’ ability to begin a search,” Mr. Smart said. “Digitally-stored information can save valuable time so that families and police can work together quickly to bring a kidnapped child home safely.”

Today’s event coincides with National Missing Children’s Day, which was observed nationally on Sunday. Judy Roach, Executive Director for NCMEC’s Texas office, praised the attorney general’s initiative.

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View Video of News Conference

“National Missing Children’s Day reminds parents and guardians to make child safety a priority,” Roach said. “Parents often feel helpless when a child goes missing, and these flash drives give them a powerful tool to take control of a desperate situation. We look forward to continuing our collaboration with Attorney General Abbott in the fight to protect Texas children.”

According to the Texas Missing Persons Clearinghouse, 58,285 Texas children were reported missing in 2007. The U.S. Dept. of Justice ranks Texas second in the nation, behind California, in the number of child abductions from non-family members. An estimated 115 children are victims of “stereotypical” kidnappings by strangers or individuals of slight acquaintance.

Today’s flash drive initiative is another in a series of child protection efforts by Attorney General Abbott. In 2003, he created the Cyber Crimes Unit, which protects children from online sexual exploitation. Cyber Crimes Unit investigators often work closely with NCMEC to respond to cybertips regarding sex predators who sexually solicit children online or download child pornography.

Attorney General Abbott also launched the Fugitive Unit in 2003, which locates sex offenders who have violated the terms of their parole and could be stalking children. Together, the Cyber Crimes Unit and Fugitive Unit have arrested more than 700 sex offenders, and prosecutors have obtained child pornography convictions against more than 80 men. Cyber Crimes Unit investigators also have traveled to schools and communities statewide to offer educational cyber safety programs.

In May 2006, Attorney General Abbott’s Cyber Crimes Unit was awarded a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention to establish an ICAC Task Force. The Texas Attorney General’s ICAC Task Force is one of almost 50 federally funded task forces across the country dedicated to this project.

To find out more about Attorney General Abbott’s efforts to protect Texas children, visit www.texasattorneygeneral.gov.