The U.S. Justice Department will soon begin reporting how many children go missing each year in the U.S., says Scripps Howard News Service. That would end a 15-year violation of an act of Congress meant to improve how police report lost, kidnapped, and runaway children. The FBI had refused to make public the information on the ground that the data in the National Crime Information Center computer database are confidential police files. Officials will not report geographic information that would have helped identify local police departments in violation of the reporting standards required by the National Child Search Assistance Act of 1990. “We don’t want to embarrass people. We want to convince them to cooperate,” said an FBI agent.
Missing-children advocates took the news as only a partial victory. “This has really been embarrassing and the federal government should be embarrassed,” said David Thelen, founder of the Committee for Missing Children, a Georgia-based group. “Without good statistics, we don’t know what the problem is or where it is.” The 1990 law says the Justice Department should make “an annual statistical summary” of children reported to the FBI. The Justice Department has never made such an accounting. Scripps Howard News Service wrote President Bush and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in May urging them to begin reporting the information. Some police wait days or weeks before reporting missing children to state and federal authorities. Others ignore teenagers suspected of running away.