Two months ago, the Washington Metropolitan Police Department’s new commander, Chanel Dickerson, made a pledge: Let’s find our missing girls.
Now, as the department posts profiles of missing Black and Latina girls in the nation’s capital on its Twitter feed almost daily, members of the Congressional Black Caucus are calling for a federal investigation.
But is there really an increase in missing person cases in the Washington, D.C. area? The short answer is ‘no,’ according to the Metropolitan Police Department.
The police department has simply been using Twitter more often to publicize missing person reports, Acting Police Chief Peter Newsham said to clear up the public concern over the youth cases.
Sharing them more on social media is giving the impression the number of cases has increased, he said, when they haven’t. He said missing person reports are down so far in 2017.
However, the narrative of missing Black girls is very important and still needs to be addressed.
According to the head of Metropolitan Police Department’s Youth and Family Services, over the past five years 200 people have been reported missing each month.
So far in 2017, there have been 190 cases on average.
From 2012 to 2016, officials said 99% of all missing person cases have been closed. Out of those 19,000 cases, only 16 remain open.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Acting Chief Newsham also confirmed they have found no connection to these cases and human trafficking, which is another theory that has been circulating online.
According to the Black and Missing foundation, an organization that brings awareness to missing children of color, 36.8% of missing children nationwide are Black.
“We also noticed that a lot of African American children that go missing are initially classified as runaways,” said Natalie Wilson, co-founder of the Black and Missing Foundation. “They do not get an Amber Alert or media coverage.”
In a letter Tuesday, the lawmakers asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director James Comey to “devote the resources necessary to determine whether these developments are an anomaly, or whether they are indicative of an underlying trend that must be addressed.”
“When children of color go missing, authorities often assume they are runaways rather than victims of abduction,” they said.
Sessions was briefed on the issue Friday, Justice Department spokesperson Sarah Isgur Flores said.
“The Attorney General is aware of the reports and is looking into the issue,” she said.
Robert Lowery, a vice president at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said the number of child abductions is down across the country. The level of runaway cases seen in D.C. and other major cities is particularly disturbing.
“Our frustration is, we deal with a very desensitized public,” Lowery said. “The natural inclination (about a runaway) is the child’s behavioral problem is why they’ve left. We also see significant numbers of runway children who are running away from a situation, whether it’s abuse or neglect or sexual abuse in the home. These children face unique risks when they’re gone so we applaud the conversation and we applaud the attention that this issue is being given.”