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Protecting Children

MORE THAN 200,000 children are abducted each year, according to U.S. Department of Justice statistics, while more than 800,000 are reported missing. And it’s unknown exactly how many children are sexually exploited either online or in person. The ASIS International Law Enforcement Liaison Council (LELC) has been working with representatives from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) to learn how private security might be able to better offer assistance in combating the problem.

There are many ways in which private security can help. One is by raising awareness to improve the chances that such crimes will be deterred or detected before children are hurt. Another is by taking steps that can make it more likely abductors will be caught.

A stark example was the case of Jaycee Dugard, a California woman who was kidnapped from a bus stop in 1991 when she was 11 years old. A campus police officer and a security officer at University of California, Berkeley, noticed that Dugard and her children were acting odd when they visited the campus with the man the world would later find out was Dugard’s captor, Philip Garrido. The officers’ suspicions set in motion the events that reunited Dugard with her family.

There’s an obvious humanitarian interest in helping improve safety and security for children, but there are also practical benefits for any business that helps support the issue, note the private security experts who hope to encourage broad support for the cause. The most basic impact on a company would be if a child went missing on its property, which could result in liability damages, reputation and possibly worse, particularly if the company had no plan in place to respond to such a situation. Additionally, companies are negatively impacted when an employee’s child is abducted or exploited, says Brian Reich, CPP, incoming chair of the LELC and longtime law enforcement officer.

Even worse is for a company to find that an employee is in any way involved in crimes against children. Such was the case for Oksana Farber, president of Trident Master Executive Development and current chair of the LELC. Farber says that a prior company she worked for discovered that the vice president of sales was frequenting child pornography Web sites while at work.

In a precedent-setting case in New Jersey (Jane Doe vs. XYC Corp.), the Appellate Division of New Jersey Superior Court found in 2006 that a company aware that an employee is accessing child pornography at  work has a duty to investigate and take action to stop the activity to curtail harm to third parties. Security professionals should make sure their companies understand the need to pursue the issue, as Farber’s company did.

But companies can also do more than react after the fact, especially with regard to the risk of abduction. Farber and Reich would like companies to begin to include a section on child protection in their security assessments and policies. Companies need to have steps that can to be taken right away, because in cases where the abductor plans to murder the child, that usually happens quickly.

It’s important that if someone reports an abduction to security, that the security person know “the best steps they can take to help save the child,” says Peter Bellmio, a NCMEC senior policy advisor.

Security professionals can be a valuable resource in the effort to protect and recover children. Bellmio notes that NCMEC has had success in private sector partnerships, particularly in retail establishments and hospitals. He points out that security professionals and private security guards are more prevalent than public sector law enforcement. “They know their businesses. They know their employees.... They’re in the best position to assess risk and to protect children,” he says.

Moreover, he notes, if something does happen at their business, they assume the first responder role that is “so critical to really making those decisions early on that help us save children.”

In addition to having response policies, companies should incorporate child protection awareness into company risk assessments. Executives need to consider “how to go about it realistically,” says Farber. Some tips might be to alert employees to the potential risks of child abduction and to give parents tips on what to warn their children about and how to avoid potentially risky situations.

Employees who work directly with children should undergo a full background investigation. Companies should also tell their employees that viewing child pornography is against the law and that any employee caught using company assets to do so will be reported to law enforcement and prosecuted.

Those involved in this initiative stress that they are not talking about creating more work or a new program. The appropriate information can be woven into existing security programs.

Collaboration between NCMEC and the LELC is ongoing. As one measure of support for the issue, Brian Reich and NCMEC’s Bob Lowery are presenting a session at this month’s ASIS International 56th Annual Seminar and Exhibits in Dallas titled “Child Predators and the Threat to Your Company.”