Lawmakers work to revamp runaway laws in U.S

State and federal lawmakers from around the country are pressing a variety of new laws that would make sweeping changes in the way runaways and prostituted children are treated by police and social workers.

In Congress, Democratic leaders in the House and Senate are moving several bills that would improve how runaways are tracked by police, increase spending to provide them with social services and promote methods for earlier intervention. The Government Accountability Office, an auditing arm of Congress, began an investigation in December at the request of the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., into whether police departments are handling runaways properly.

Lawmakers in at least 10 states have proposed or passed bills in recent months that focus on runaways by extending outreach efforts and shelter options and changing state reporting requirements so that youth shelters have enough time to win trust and provide services before they need to report the runaways to the police.

Police departments are already required by federal law to enter missing-person reports into a database called the National Crime Information Center, or NCIC, within two hours of receiving them. When local police fail to do this, law enforcement agencies in other jurisdictions do not know to look for the missing person.

Data provided by the national center to the New York Times indicate that the police often do not comply with this requirement.

From November 2006 through November 2009, police in New York City failed in about 40 percent of cases to enter missing-person reports into the NCIC for runaways within 24 hours of receiving the report, according to a review of cases reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The national average during that period was around 16 percent.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said the reporting failures were outrageous. She and Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., introduced legislation on Nov. 19 to certify that law enforcement agencies comply with federal law by entering all missing children into the federal database.

The bill, which is co-sponsored by John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., also requires the police to provide anyone who reports a missing person with information about the services provided by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the National Runaway Switchboard. In many cases, the police said, they often did not take reports about runaways as seriously as abductions, and families were often unaware of other resources.

Schumer said he planned to introduce a similar bill soon in the Senate, which instructs the Justice Department to perform audits of local law enforcement agencies to ensure compliance with reporting requirements.

State lawmakers in Connecticut, Hawaii, New York, Pennsylvania and North Dakota are considering bills to improve tracking and services for runaways and minors who are victims of sex trafficking. Washington and Iowa are considering bills to lengthen the time before welfare workers are required to report a child missing. Illinois and Rhode Island have passed and Massachusetts has proposed laws raising penalties on people who engage in the sex trafficking of minors.

source: http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/01/04/MNGR1BD2V7.DTL

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