CLEVELAND (WJW) — Investigators working for Cleveland police and the Northeast Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force want to set the record straight on national news reports of missing children, which city officials say are “misleading.”
Cleveland Police Chief Wayne Drummond, city police detective Kevin Callahan and Chief Larry Henderhan of the task force discussed ongoing trends and current information, and took questions during a live Zoom session on Wednesday.
Read on for an archived blog of updates from the live session.
“Over the last year, more than 2,400 kids between the ages of 13-17 are missing in the county. Not only are they missing in Cleveland but Cuyahoga County,” Larry Macon, pastor of Mount Zion Church in Oakwood Village, said Tuesday.
According to Cleveland police, 30 children were reported missing in just the first two weeks of May.
“We don’t know where they are at. If they are runaways, we don’t know where they are at. If they are in a drug house, we don’t know where they are at. If they are murdered, we don’t know where they are at,” said Macon.
[This live blog has been archived.]
The Zoom session began at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday. Here are live updates:
- Police Chief Wayne Drummond said the city has five detectives at each district assigned specifically to missing persons, which include missing juveniles. Officers take those reports “seriously,” he said.
“It’s important we bring context to this particular issue we have today. … When you look at the stats, they are startling,” he said.
- Drummond said the majority of missing juveniles in Cleveland are runaways — but that isn’t meant to minimalize the seriousness of those cases, he said. If circumstances are suspicious, they’re investigated, he said.
“If we need additional help, we bring our detectives from downtown and if it looks like it’s a serious kidnapping we bring in our federal partners,” Drummond said. “We have resources available that we bring to bear in these particular cases.”
- There’s currently nothing indicating people are targeting children for human trafficking, Drummond said.
- Detective Kevin Callahan reviews each missing person report daily, he said.
“There is no time limit when you can make a missing person report,” he said, dispelling common belief that there must be a waiting period before filing. “Depending whether it’s an elderly adult or juvenile — they all get followed up.”
- Callahan said residents can report missing persons to the city police department’s non-emergency line at 216-621-1234 or to Crimestoppers at 216-25-CRIME. He recommended keeping recent pictures of children.
“Talk to your children, know who they’re talking to. Know their social media accounts,” Callahan said.
- Chief Larry Henderhan is the director of the Northeast Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force, which covers several counties and works with partnering agencies in sharing information.
“I have not seen a rise of human trafficking incidents with these missing juveniles,” he said. “It’s becoming summer months. A lot of kids get antsy. There’s lack of supervision at home. They want to go out with their friends and get out on the streets and enjoy themselves for the summer.”
- The task force’s tip line is 216-443-6085.
- “It doesn’t appear there is this large amount of children being taken and being exploited for human trafficking,” Henderhan said. “A child that is missing or a runaway — they are at risk for other issues, but it does not necessarily mean they are being trafficked.”
- Drummond encouraged parents to get their kids involved in the city’s activity programs.
- Officials began taking questions from local reporters.
On a question on missing children mostly being runaways, Drummond said city police have found juveniles “come home and before they’re taken out of the system, they leave again.” Sometimes, parents or guardians don’t report the child has returned. “There are some kids who go missing who just don’t want to be found. … It’s a complex and vexing issue at times, but we do have the vast majority of our missing people including juveniles are runaways who return.”
- On a question about “red flags” to indicate suspicious disappearances, Drummond said if a child, for instance, “had an argument with the parent and took off,” that changes how it’s investigated. For abductions, more officers are mobilized.
“Depending on how the investigation pans out, we may call the FBI,” he said. “It just depends on the information we have coming in. … We take reports from anyone.”
- Drummond said every single report is evaluated. “All missing person reports are serious to us. But we look at the circumstances behind it.”
He said he intends to clarify how many of Cleveland’s missing persons reports are suspicious in nature.
- FOX 8 News’ Maia Belay asked if the number of missing children is higher or lower than in previous years and whether there are additional resources being brought to bear.
“It’s up about 20%” this year, Drummond said — but it’s currently unclear why. “It’s for a variety of reasons we have kids who leave their homes. We appreciate the parents or guardians being active and calling us to tell us what’s going on. … It could be based on an argument. it could be just for a variety of reasons.”
Detectives then begin “immediately investigating.” He highlighted specialists available in the city’s recreation centers who can help assist. “Something like that can be pretty traumatic,” Drummond said.
- Drummond said “the vast majority” of the city’s missing persons are juveniles and most of those juveniles are runaways. By the end of the year, most return home, he said.
- Maia Belay asked if there’s any indication where the runaway children are going. Drummond said most kids go to their friends’ homes and may be “hiding.”
“It’s not like they’re out sleeping on park benches. … There’s no particular location these kids are going to.”
- The live session concluded at noon.