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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
Captain Derek Prestridge of the Texas Department of Public Safety oversees the Interdiction for the Protection of Children training program. The IPC Program was awarded an FY2014 COPS Community Policing Development (CPD) microgrant.
Texas Department of Public Safety officers have rescued 351 missing, exploited, and at-risk children and opened 158 criminal investigations since the Interdiction for the Protection of Children (IPC) program was implemented in 2009. Nationwide, we have trained over 7,800 students in 14 states and Ontario, Canada. I use the term ‘student’ because the program is based on a multidisciplinary approach that partners child protective services, local prosecutors, officers, and nonprofit organizations to rescue victims and support their recovery. Law enforcement officers learn about resources in their community, and trainees from other disciplines understand how officers identify and rescue children. At the end of the two-day training, there is a team in the community that will work together for long-term success.
We developed with the help of other Federal, State and local partnerships as a response to the need for an aggressive response to protect missing, exploited and at risk children, and identify those who would harm them. IPC trains first-line officers and service partners nationwide on the detection, interdiction, and rescue of child victims of crimes and the proper handling of these victims.
One of the most influential lessons of the program is the component of awareness. The issue of child exploitation is not as simple as people may believe, and there are a number of complex variables. During the training, students gain an understanding of challenges and the barriers that prevent at-risk and exploited children from asking for help. The training solidifies officers’ understanding of the critical need for resources to help children and the necessity of calling on those resources more often to provide long-term services. We train students in the areas of human trafficking, missing child cases, internet crimes against children, high-risk threats to children and registered sex-offender compliance.
However, the training is only one component of the program. We also engage each community in three days of partnerships and help them set up the program in their jurisdiction through a train-the trainer class. Before the training is conducted, the local law enforcement agency helps bring services together for dialog and partnership work, and must show they can have guest speakers and students that are victim services professionals, child protection professionals, law experts, and fusion center personnel. The agency also has a chain of command briefing before we conduct training, which includes an administrative briefing on the project and an outline of specific components of the program, the needs of victims and their families, and long-term benefits.
Executives may initially prefer to send their staff for training, independent of local coordination, but we stress that successful rescues includes providing long-term resources and services to the child and the child’s family in hopes of removing the child from harm. The program has follow-up evaluations to gauge training effectiveness at least six months after training. We also provide support after the training and continue to engage with agencies. For example, Arizona reports that over 100 children have been rescued since the training, and we share that success with other IPC partners.
Our primary message in IPC training and during the executive briefing: stop waiting for children to disclose. We can’t place the burden of disclosure on the child. It is our job and duty to ensure the safety of a child. We teach a victim-centered approach that accounts for every child during engagement and stresses the necessity for law enforcement to assess their overall safety before parting. And if we need to intervene to rescue a child, we also need to ensure the child has the resources to be safe from harm during the long process of recovery.
Successful implementation of the IPC Program is evident in the number of rescued children but that is only one measurement. Initiation of criminal investigation is another. Even if a child isn’t present, an officer can identify adults that are high risk to children, such as non-compliant registered sex-offenders and suspects with child pornography. Officers also provide information to fusion centers for analysis, coordination and investigative support.
We are expanding through the Train-the-Trainer (T3) program so new partners can continue and sustain the program and messaging. This outreach has influenced in policy changes, positively impacted reporting procedures, and created new opportunities for agencies to develop partnerships.
As the IPC program has grown, it has partnered with the United States Marshals Service – Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) to evaluate the techniques of officers who conduct an IPC related encounter. The team of BAU psychologists evaluates the techniques used and indicators noticed by the officers. They then provide feedback to the officers and other IPC team members of their findings and assessments. This resource enhances the growth of the program, works to validate the indicators and increases more effective and efficient investigations.
The training is offered to various disciplines in law enforcement. For example, in 2017 members with the National Park Service (NPS) received the training to reach at-risk children, increase NPS employee awareness, and train officers on how to approach children. Whether the officer works patrol or an NPS employee on the National Mall, we train men and women to take a moment and engage with children that may be at risk. Officers identify who the children are, evaluate their environment, and assess if the environment is safe. For example, are the child’s answers plausible? If not, the officers use the resources available to assess the safety of the child, such as contacting the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) to check for missing children reports, contact the child’s legal guardians, and verify the child’s age. Skills and techniques that can be applied in a number of situations to increase child safety.
The IPC program is designed to be effective in any size agency, from the largest agency employing thousands of officers to the more common rural agencies with only a few. The victim centered approach has a low fiscal impact and, unlike other programs, doesn’t require any new software, hardware, or staff. In addition, agencies see immediate impact after the training.
Captain Derek Prestridge
Texas Department of Public Safety
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