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DC mayor, police look to ‘reassure’ public regarding missing teens

Chanel Dickerson, of the D.C. police's Youth and Family Services, explains that the number of missing teens is not actualyl going up. To her right are Mayor Bowser and interim police chief Peter Newsham. (WTOP/Neal Augenstein)

WASHINGTON — D.C.’s mayor and police leaders are looking to quell public concern over a seeming jump in the number of missing young people reported missing in the District.

“Like all of you, [I] had a level of concern over the number of missing persons alerts that [the Metropolitan Police Department] has recently sent,” said Mayor Muriel Bowser.  “And many of those alerts relate to young people — children and teens.”

D.C. interim police chief Peter Newsham said the number of missing persons has actually gone down recently.

Newly appointed commander Chanel Dickerson, of the police department’s Youth and Family Services, addressed concerns about the fact that more than a dozen young people — most were black, teenage girls — were reported missing in March.

“Let me first reassure you, we have no indication young girls in the District are being preyed upon by human traffickers in large numbers,” said Dickerson.

“The number of reported missing persons is not going up,” Dickerson said. “Since 2012, parents or guardians reported almost 200 juveniles missing per month — so far, in 2017, approximately 190 have been reported missing each month.

Newsham said so far this year, 462 juveniles have been reported missing — more than half of the total 708 people reported missing.

“Ninety-five percent of those folks have been located” unharmed, Newsham said.

“That’s generally how it goes in the District of Columbia,” Newsham said. “Our number will go up and down, based on us finding them.”

Newsham said a number are runaways, or just didn’t alert family members or friends of their whereabouts.

“So it’s not unusual to have a number of about 30 that are still outstanding missing,” he said.

Despite concerns and theories posted on social media, Newsham urged the public to keep missing persons in perspective.

“Many of us, when we think about human trafficking, we think of the movie ‘Taken,’ where someone is snatched off the street,” said Newsham. “That is the least likely way a person will be introduced into human trafficking.”

A more likely scenario is a vulnerable runaway will be taken advantage of, he said.

“We will continue to use every resource available to protect our city’s most vulnerable residents,” said Bowser.  “Including social media.”


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