Wisconsin College Leads Nation’s Child Protection Training
Buried beneath the avalanche of political news flowing out of Washington earlier this month was a story that impacted families around the country but earned scant notice from the national media.
Operation Broken Heart IV, a massive effort to investigate and arrest child predators and promote cyber security and safety education, culminated with the arrest of more than 1,000 people on charges ranging from possession of child pornography to online solicitation of a minor.
Operation Broken Heart involved more than 4,500 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, and it was spearheaded by the national Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
Many of those state and local police officers who carried out Operation Broken Heart got their training through a small technical college in Wisconsin.
The National Criminal Justice Training Center at Fox Valley Technical College has emerged as a national leader in child protection training of all types. The college offers workshops, courses, conferences and customized training programs in fighting child sex trafficking; dealing with endangered, missing and abducted children; the development of AMBER alert systems; and more.
“We are the largest child protection agency in the country,” said Bradley Russ, a former New Hampshire police chief who is director of the NCJTC. “People are surprised to learn that this little college in Appleton, Wisconsin, is the leading provider of child protection services.”
The center’s efforts had yielded some significant results, the college reports. For example:
• 840 children have been successfully recovered as a result of AMBER Alert and the inception of its national training at FVTC.
• 20 nationwide AMBER Alert plans have been implemented.
• Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task forces and about 4,500 related law enforcement affiliations have been formed and managed under the leadership of the NCJTC.
• 60 new online classes offered around the nation in 2016 on topics related to missing persons and both sex trafficking and human trafficking.
• Since 2012, 40 Tribes have been trained with 16 approved strategic plans; 13 of those nations were awarded federal grant dollars due to FVTC’s help in developing these plans.
“We have been entrusted with some of the nation’s highest priorities,” Russ said.
“You can’t measure what it is you’ve prevented. But I think we have made communities safer. We have gotten abusers off the street.”
The center traces its roots to 1993, when Fox Valley submitted a bid to the U.S. Justice Department to host the center. For the previous ten years, Russ had been traveling around the country as a trainer for the U.S. Department of Justice, focusing on internet crimes against children.
The training has greatly expanded under his leadership and now numbers more than 60 different programs.
Still, the center has had to stave off competition to keep its contracts with the Justice Department in effect.
“You have to work hard to demonstrate that you are still effective,” Russ said. “There is a lot of competition. You have to be flexible and responsive.”
To do that, Russ draws on practitioners, rather than academics, to teach classes and conduct workshops around the country. Keeping up with the latest trends in technology is an imperative.
“We want to bring in the best possible instructors,” he said. “We bring in practitioners, those working in the field. That is the secret to our success. Our teachers are actively working in the field. That gives them great credibility.”
“We have trained police chiefs, prosecutors and nurses,” he said. “We train child advocates. We are proud of our partnerships with the National Children’s Alliance and the National Prosecutors Association.”
That concerns are growing over child protection is not in dispute. A recent conference sponsored by the Internet Crimes Against Children task force, for example, recently attracted 1,500 people to a hotel in Atlanta, an indication that the demand for training continues unabated, Russ said.
Officials from the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department were joined by local law enforcement officials, as well as high tech vendors such as Google, Facebook and Apple. The NJCTC played a key role in the conference.
As he was when he started as a trainer, Russ is still traveling. On the day he spoke to Community College Week, he was in North Dakota conducting a training session for tribal police departments and meeting with U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp. He is on a plane four to five days every week.
But he also spends a lot of time in Washington, D.C., advocating for the center and seeking new money to pay for training programs. Reaching all the police officers who want training is a daunting task. There are more than 18,000 police departments in the country, and 80 percent employ fewer than 50 officers.
“We can’t train everybody,” he said. “What I try to do is educate Congress. I think the best solution is employing best practices and getting them out in the field.
“I have talented people working for me. We have great programs. But I also have long lists of people who want this training. I could quadruple my budget and still not reach all the people who want training.”
Russ is currently pushing for passage of a bill that would that would expand the AMBER Alert child abduction warning system on Native American reservations by clarifying that Indian tribes are eligible for Department of Justice grants that help assemble such systems.
The DOJ currently operates a pilot program that offers AMBER Alert training services to Native American tribes, but SB 722, sponsored by U.S. Sen. John McCain, would make that initiative permanent and enhance DOJ oversight of how the grants are used.
The bill was spurred by the death of 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike, who was kidnapped and killed last year on the Navajo Nation reservation. The girl’s father filed a missing person report for his daughter at about 7 p.m. May 2, but the FBI was not notified until 9 p.m. and a search was not initiated until after 2 a.m. May 3. An Amber Alert was issued at 2:30 a.m. According to data produced by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, there are 7,724 Native American children listed as missing in the United States “This was a tragic case that could have been avoided,” Russ said. “In any child abduction case, time is your enemy.”