COLUMBUS, Ohio (WKEF)– John Walsh, the co-founder of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, met with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies across Ohio today during a seminar hosted by Attorney General Dave Yost's office.
Walsh says Ohio started the nation's first-ever mandated training program to educate officers about the advanced tactics needed to recover missing and exploited children, and now the center plans on expanding Ohio's model nationwide.
Walsh explained NCMEC training is the best in the nation and that the center is partnering with Ohio as Governor Mike DeWine and Attorney General Yost are leading the way in finding new ways to combat the crisis. Walsh explained he also came to Ohio as the state mandates 24-hour training every year to keep officers informed about what's needed to save these kids.
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Walsh says the training model is groundbreaking, and its goal is to teach every cop in the state what it takes to find our most vulnerable population.
"We are the richest, most powerful country on the planet, but I think we should be embarrassed by the fact that we're number one in sex trafficking of children," Walsh said.
Walsh tells me he first founded the center after facing challenges at every level trying to mobilize law enforcement to find his son, Adam, after he went missing in 1981.
Adam was found murdered by a predator, and it prompted Walsh to advocate for the foundational laws in place that safeguard missing and exploited children today. Yet, he says the epidemic of child sex trafficking is dire as ever and our nation needs to catch up.
"It was hunting season for pedophiles, that the calls to our cyber tip line from parents and children were up over 300% they went from about 300,000 calls a year to 600,000," Walsh explained.
The trainings teach tools on how officers can stay ahead of the sophisticated ways traffickers exploit kids online. It connects law enforcement with the centers round the clock support on cases, as well as education about warning signs of victimization. Walsh added that the model is in the beginning phases and will be further developed.
"Most of the kids' sex trafficked in America are American kids, primarily runaways. One in seven girls that are in foster care runs away. So we have to dispel a lot of misconceptions about what's happening," Walsh said
Dwight Holcomb, the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy executive director, added that the training will also provide the latest access on how to identify traffickers and build cases that lead to proper convictions.
"We want to do everything we can to make sure that the individual that took those children doesn't do it again," Holcomb said.
Because many missing children now are transported across the state and nation, Walsh projects the program will not just foster cross-county collaboration but give local departments the knowledge to be proactive and recover kids within the first 24-hours.
"The biggest thing to overcome is the lack of exchange of information between these agencies," Walsh said.
Walsh is also calling on social services to work more closely with police on cases.
To learn more about the reforms legislatures are working on to make this communication between police and children services mandatory, as well as Representative Phil Plummer's goal to invest federal funds to upgrade records systems with the latest technology, watch my latest investigation, "The plight of missing runaways across Ohio."