WASHINGTON - Critics are raising questions about whether the new social media push by D.C. police to raise awareness about missing children in the District is doing more harm the good.
While D.C. police has said there has not been a spike in missing persons cases in the city, their increased use of social media to immediately tweet out the images of people reported missing has had some in the community fearing there was an increase of children going missing.
On Wednesday night, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White and Acting Police Chief Peter Newsham were part of a town hall meeting held to address residents' concerns. Some people became very emotional at the meeting and it went off topic at times, ultimately leaving people without answers to their questions.
“We got to get worried about somebody trying to take us and we can’t even live our life without somebody trying to put their hands on us,” one girl spoke out in tears at the town hall meeting.
But the reality is the majority of missing children in the District have not been abducted.
"Every missing person is not sex trafficked,” said Henderson Long, the founder of Missing and Exploited East of the River. “They are not abducted. Some people just run away. Some people voluntarily go missing, which is totally legal.”
Many leave on their own accord like Dayanna White. She first went missing for a month last year at just 14 years old. And on Wednesday, she returned home after disappearing for a week.
“When these kids go missing, try to find out exactly what is the problem when we do find them,” said Dana White, Dayanna’s mother. “Where were they at? Who were they with?”
She believes Dayanna leaves home because of her family's plight – crammed in a small two-bedroom apartment with seven others.
“Some of these kids are runaways,” White said. “Some of them are missing and if you get on top of it and stop looking at everyone as a runaway, maybe the problem will be solved faster than what it is.”
But for Long, who has canvassed the streets of Ward 7 and 8 for the past two years searching for those missing, the attention is welcome, but he believes this new resurgence of public scrutiny on these cases could be for political gain rather than bringing the missing home.
“Once it blew up in the media, we have seen people who have absolutely nothing to do with missing people proclaiming to be the face of missing people,” he said.
Many people have been asking why these critical missing cases in D.C. do not turn into Amber Alerts. For law enforcement to consider issuing an Amber Alert, the following criteria need to be met:
- An abduction has to have occurred
- There is imminent danger of bodily injury
- There is imminent danger of death
- Person needs to be younger than 17 years old
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser will hold a Facebook Live event Friday at 1 p.m. with Commander Chanel Dickerson, the head of D.C. police’s Youth and Family Services Division, where they will continue to address concerns about missing people in D.C.