WASHINGTON - D.C. officials are disputing reports of a recent increase in the number of people reported missing in the District. In a news conference on Thursday, Mayor Muriel Bowser said what has changed is the way authorities are getting the information out to the public, via social media.
FOX 5 DC has been covering the story since DC began to raise awareness about a staggering number of minors, and especially teenagers, who have been reported missing in the area. FOX 5 DC was also the first to sit down with Commander Chanel Dickerson, the newly appointed head of MPD's Youth and Family Services Division, which is tasked with getting to the bottom of each case.
"The number of missing persons reports has remained constant since 2014. What has changed is our way of getting that information out quickly and the tools that we are using to get that out," Bowser said during Thursday's news conference.
Mayor Bowser, Acting D.C. Police Chief Newsham and Commander Dickerson of the department's Youth and Family Services Division told reporters there is no evidence that suggests those reported missing are related to human trafficking.
"The overwhelming majority of our missing persons quickly return home or are located. So far in 2017, 95 percent of our cases have been closed. In 2016, we had almost 1,000 fewer reports of missing persons than we had in 2012," Newsham said.
At the time of our interview in February 2017, Commander Dickerson told FOX 5 DC, "I don't know what's going on, but it is definitely a deeper issue."
But on Wednesday, the department's official Twitter account posted the following message in response to multiple tweets inquiring about missing girls: "There isn't a spike in missing people in DC, we're just using social media more to help locate them. Sorry to alarm you."
On Thursday, Dickerson said that since 2012, parents or guardians have reported almost 200 juveniles missing per month. Since the beginning of 2017, she said, that number has gone down to about 190 per month. She also said that from 2012 to 2016, over 99 percent of all missing persons cases have been closed. So far in 2017, there have been 708 missing persons reports filed at Metropolitan Police Department, of which 674 have been closed, and 34 remain open.
Since taking over the missing persons unit in December 2016, Commander Dickerson said she has made it her priority to give the same level of attention to each and every case. The department has turned to social media, including Facebook and Periscope, to increase the amount of exposure the cases are receiving, in conjunction with press releases.
Since the social media effort has launched, officials say they have received numerous calls from hospital staff, security officers and other D.C. government agency employees who have recognized missing people while at work. Because of this, Commander Dickerson says MPD was able to quickly reunite those people with their families. Bowser, Newsham and Dickerson also urged the public to join in and help with locating all of D.C.'s missing persons when the reports are publicized.
"The numbers are alarmingly high, said Derrica Wilson, co-founder and president of the Black and Missing Foundation in an interview with FOX 5 DC on Wednesday evening.
"So to say that is not an uptick in the number of kids that are going missing-- to see that 10 children go missing within two weeks-- that right there is alarming in itself," Wilson continued.