College-based center focuses on child protection

A home visit activity as part of a child abduction and domestic abuse training session led by the National Criminal Justice Training Center. (Photos: Fox Valley Technical College)

Whenever a serial child molester or sex trafficker is caught, there’s a good chance the investigators were trained by the National Criminal Justice Training Center (NCJTC), based at Fox Valley Technical College in Wisconsin.

The NCJTC trains about 25,000 law enforcement and related specialists a year, thanks to about $9 million a year in grant funds from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and other offices in the U.S. Justice Department.

Since the center was launched some 25 years ago, it’s trained more than 150,000 people – 200,000 if you count e-learning, said Director Brad Russ, a former police chief.

The NCJTC is one of the largest training centers of its type and trains more people in child protection issues than any other institution, Russ said.

The center offers 50 to 60 different training programs, most of them related to child exploitation issues. When the center was established, it focused on child protection but has more recently branched out to other areas, such as domestic violence, sexual assault and substance abuse.

Programs range from one-day workshops to week-long immersive training, which is mostly provided in local communities or online, free of charge. The center has a mobile lab to train people to work on internet crimes against children. It also conducts train-the-trainers sessions and webinars.

Amber Alert

The NCJTC is the only institution that offers Amber Alert training, which is aimed at teaching police officers, search and rescue personnel, transportation department officials, emergency dispatchers, prosecutors and the media on how to respond effectively when a child is abducted.

The training covers the characteristics and dynamics of child abductors, how to: develop a plan for dealing with these incidents; set up an incident command center; and deploy a system of road signs and other messages to alert the public.

Most child abductions are carried out by non-custodial parents, Russ said, and missing children are often runaways. But in rare cases – about 50 to 75 a year in the U.S. – a child is abducted by a stranger who intends to murder or otherwise harm the victim. When that occurs, the crime is usually committed within the first 24 hours, so law enforcement needs to act fast.

Since the Amber Alert training program was started at Fox Valley in 2004, 850 children abducted by pedophiles or other predators were successfully found. In most of those cases, the professionals who’ve succeeded in saving the victim had taken training courses from the NCJTC, although it’s impossible to know exactly how many, Russ said.

He credits that success to the center’s great reputation and demonstrated track record since the center started winning grants from the Justice Department in 1993.

Human trafficking

According to Russ, 5 percent to 6 percent of long-term missing children wind up living on the streets where they are preyed upon by sex traffickers. They are often runaways, who have fled domestic abuse, or are “throwaways,” who’ve been kicked out of their home. As a result, many of them don’t want to be found by the police and returned home. It’s also hard to find witnesses willing to testify, so it’s particularly difficult to prosecute those cases.

The NCJTC provides training to help law enforcement and related officials identify and interview sex trafficking victims, use internet ads and cell phones to investigate these crimes, gather evidence and win in court.

Among those who’ve taken NCJTC courses on human trafficking are child protection services personnel, members of police vice units, social workers, victim advocates, forensic interviewers and prosecutors. “Judges have taken the program, as they as sometimes have trouble figuring out what to do with these kids,” Russ said.

Tribal training

Some of the training done by the center is targeted to teams of law enforcement and related personnel who work with Native American communities, which tend to have high rates of domestic violence, sexual assaults, substance abuse and unemployment.

The center’s tribal training programs cover development of an action plan tailored to a community’s needs, model programs, best practices, building trust, finding resources, creating partnerships and developing interagency memoranda of understanding.

Students at a tribal youth academy hosted by the National Criminal Justice Training Center in Appleton, Wisconsin.

At a recent tribal training institute in Minnesota, participants included several tribes from the Midwest. When participants were asked about their main issues, one probation officer said he had no training and wasn’t even sure what his job is supposed to be, Russ noted.

Another training program helps communities deal with sex offenders released from jail. Participants learn how to monitor them, prevent them from re-offending, educate the community about them and ensure they are barred from internet chat rooms with kids.

Commitment

“When people ask ‘how are you able to do this working out of a small community college?’ We say it’s all about commitment. Fox Valley President Susan May is very supportive, and we’ve able to leverage all these resources,” Russ said.

About 95 percent of the training is tuition free. For tribal programs, the center even covers students’ travel and lodging costs. The fees for the other programs cover the center’s costs.

“We go to tiny places that really need the training and can’t get it in their own state or region,” said Russ, who noted a recent training program was held in Philadelphia – in Mississippi.

The training is all hands on and includes practical exercises and is done by practitioners in the field. “We don’t do death by PowerPoint,” Russ said.

That training results in successful outcomes. In one recent case, personnel from a sheriff’s department in California trained by NCJTC captured a sex offender who had molested more than 30 children.

In another victory, the man who abducted and murdered 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling in 1989 in Minnesota, was arrested a couple of years ago and confessed to abducting other children. And earlier this year, a man who dressed up as Spider-Man while washing windows at a children’s hospital was sentenced for producing and distributing child pornography.

While it’s impossible to determine whether those arrests were directly related to NCJTC programs, Russ noted that the center is one of the top training sites on how to identify online child porn victims and offenders.

“The center’s successes show how a community college can make a difference,” Russ said. “If it wasn’t for Fox Valley and their support, many of these programs wouldn’t exist. Fox Valley helped shape the landscape for criminal justice training.”

About the Author

Ellie Ashford
is associate editor of Community College Daily.