March 19th, 2015

Why Missing Children Have Policy Salience and Why You Should Expect That Salience to Increase

I have _not_ been happy about the quality of the data I have been finding. But I did find this after I switched from missing _children_ to missing _persons_.

The FBI maintains a database of missing people. By changing the year on the URL above, you can look at other years too.

"As of December 31, 2014, NCIC contained 84,924 active missing person records. Juveniles under the age of 18 account for 33,677 (39.7 %) of the records and 43,289 (51.0 %) records when juveniles are defined as under 21 years of age.*"

"During 2014, 635,155 missing person records were entered into NCIC, an increase of 1.2% from the 627,911 records entered in 2013. Missing Person records cleared or canceled during the same period totaled 634,367. Reasons for these removals include: a law enforcement agency located the subject, the individual returned home, or the record had to be removed by the entering agency due to a determination that the record is invalid."

What I see in these two paragraphs: statements about 800K kids going missing every year are either (a) out of date (if you look at the NCIC report, there's a table a ways down that shows activity in the database over a couple decades, and the total entries have been declining for some years now) (b) exaggerated for programmatic purposes or (c) using a different reporting definition than the NCIC. Using the tables further down in the report, we see that 466,949 of the total entries are for under 18 and 498,872 are for under 21.

Almost a half million children or young adults go missing long enough to generate a report to NCIC every year.

And that, My Dear Readers, is somewhat higher than the same 1 child per 1000 total population that NY DOJ reported to the Observer (about 1.4 or thereabouts). (BTW, that was a really silly headline. Kidnapping is _not_ the risk that chipping would address.)

So I believe it. Let's go back to the original numbers, tho, and instead of thinking of this in terms of missing kid per total population and start thinking about it in terms of missing kid per population of kids. Otherwise, even tho there are _more people_ in the US under 18 than ever before, the _share_ of people in the US under 18 is about the lowest it has ever been, and that trend is likely to continue/increase (aging population, longer lifespan, later child rearing, fewer total kids per mother/woman of reproductive age, yada yada yada). If we look only in terms of missing kid per _total_ population, that will continue to improve (look, "fewer" kids missing. Yay!) while the parents freak out more and more (because the fraction of kids missing vs. total kids didn't move, or maybe even got worse, conceivably -- or got better, but compared to other kid risks isn't getting better fast enough).

Almost a half million are under 18, and a half million are under 21. 75 million people in the US are under 18. 0.63% of the population under 18 is reported missing to NCIC annually. More or less. It's a little tricky finding the under 21 fraction of the US population, but it looks like it doesn't move the meter by much. [If you find a math error, please let me know! I feel real shaky on some of this stuff. Also, I am assuming no repeaters, which MAY NOT BE JUSTIFIED.]

Here's another way to think about this. Here's the number for under 18 in the database on December 31: 33,677.

Here's the number for traffic fatalities in 2012 in the United States (adults and kids): 33,561.

We live in a world in which children have to sit in booster seats until they hit some height/weight limits, _so the seat belts work better_. Before that, they have to be in specially designed car seats which are expensive and have expiration dates and are frequently redesigned because they are discovered to have Some Issues. We just went through a bunch of car redesign because of a new crash test (frontal offset, IIRC). We have airbags. We did all that to get traffic fatalities down to the same number of kids per year as are currently reported _missing_ and unaccounted for in the NCIC database on an arbitrarily chosen date.

Policy is driven by body count. And we've driven total fatalities due to car crashes _below_ the number of kids in NCIC. Expect this issue to gain some policy attention over time. In the meantime, don't be surprised to find that parents who have already babyproofed their house, bought a Volvo, and taken other measures to ensure the safety of their child come looking for better technology to find a child that has wandered off (autism) or otherwise been misplaced (got/was put on the wrong bus, misplaced on a field trip, missed child care or custodial parent handoff, walked out the wrong bathroom door at the amusement park, etc.)

I've been attempting to match the racial breakdown numbers in the NCIC database to under 18 and under 21 by race for the population. The handling of Hispanic is different and I don't know how to reconcile things. I _do_ think that whites are underrepresented in the numbers, so I would urge any white person who is thinking that this isn't actually a serious problem to maybe do a lot of listening, and be willing to engage in respectful collaboration with groups who find that this is more of a problem, and, in the interests of all children staying safe and parents not being excessively stressed out, be willing to consider devoting resources to the problem.

A bit about missing persons and DNA

This is really cool, about using family reference samples, or samples from toothbrush of the missing person or similar. The idea is to have databases of all the unidentified remains that get collected over the years and all the DNA samples for identifying the missing people, and over time, you figure out who all the remains are and the family of the missing person at least gets some information.

There's been some publicity in Massachusetts about children already being watched by child services dying, and there was a NYT article about children in foster care/ward of the state/group home situations in Chicago going missing. Predictably, law governing inter-agency cooperation can become an issue.

Reconnecting runaways and/or lost children with their families is obviously a universal problem, and can be particularly difficult when the child doesn't know where there home is/was because they left it at a very young age. But modern technology and good procedures can help.

How Much is That Feeling of Independence Worth To You?

There was a recent case in which parents received an "unsubstantiated" decision after someone reported their 10 and 6 (IIRC) year old children unattended by other adults, on their way to a park (1 mile -- none of this appear to be in dispute). Obvs, police responded to the report, equally obvs involved CPS and then a file got opened and this is the current decision which means a "watchful waiting" period will ensue. Parents are freaked and "free range parenting", the need to "feel" and/or "be" "independent" as a child is debated, etc. I find this all very exasperating, because while I feel for all the aging boomers with the affectionate memories of running around the neighborhood in a pack of kids, or at least walking to or from school together, I've also looked at a lot of statistics and I'd rather have a larger fraction of the child population survive, because we just don't have as many kids any more.

Also, kids.


I'm currently poking around at missing children, including up to the age of 21 in some cases, sometimes reported missing, sometimes not, sometimes from the home of their family, sometimes from various state/foster/group etc. homes. I'm trying to get a better understanding of how and why children become separated from their designated guardians/adult supervision/parents, and what kinds of things happen next.

What I am finding is that, once again, deeply held values influence how people perceive children. Even when we aren't arguing about how _we_ should be treating children (what kind of supervision is required and what we should do when it is apparently absent, or when the supervision being delivered looks like abuse, etc.), it turns out we often _are_ arguing about when a child is ... not a child.

I remember being a girl in some detail. I remember believing that I could do a whole lot of things adults could do, maybe even better than some of them. I believed that girls matured sooner than boys. And there was a brief period of time when I was about 11 or 12 when I aspired to marry younger than my mother at at 19 (I got over it). But I also remember really dreading the responsibility associated with driving a car, and I really _loathed_ the responsibility of carrying for an infant (after one or two go-rounds of that as a 12 year old, give or take, I flat out refused to watch kids younger than 2. And my experience with infants as a child myself contributed to a very long-standing uncertainty about whether I ever wanted to have kids of my own, which is a risk associated with expecting children to care for children that is underappreciated.). The adults _handing_ me these responsibilities (I didn't actually ask for most of them, and I tried to fight off the learn-to-drive one but lost) were practically gleeful that I felt these fears. They thought that meant I'd do a good job.

Most of my experiences around children fit well within my memory of being a child: a huge, confusing mix of wanting to make decisions and not wanting responsibility. Wanting to do the things I wanted, but feel safe and protected. There are some edge cases that I have really wondered about, including sexual activity, and that's a whole, complex mess involving same sex sibling incest that happened when I was really young, and then no sex until I was 22. For a good chunk of my adult life, I've been firmly of the opinion that if kids want to have sex with each other, they should be Real Clear on condoms to reduce disease transmission, and birth control pills/shots/wtf because belt-and-suspenders is how I live my life, and open communications so if there is a failure, you can get Plan B or, if it's too late for that, the very earliest next option because those are cheaper, less risky and much more widely available than if you wait longer.

I love that we got _away_ from blanket age-of-consent and instituted Romeo-and-Juliet laws. No, you idiot mid-to-late 20s loser, you do _not_ get to shop the middle school/high school for a low-self-esteem girl. But if that same girl wants to get it on with some guy she met in shop class, nobody has to go to jail. I am _especially_ happy to see developments in Venice (CA) recently, because it looks like we're finally pursuing egregious consent violations in a school context. Obvs, I would have been happier if there weren't a bunch of predatory boys running around, but I'll take enforcement.

Also, recently, I read this (every trigger imaginable):

and large chunks of this:

The problems here seem similar. A _girl_ (not a woman, a female child) is unambiguously the victim of violent, sexual crime. But because of what the _girl_ says (or refuses to say) and does (or refuses to do) when interacting with investigators and social workers and so forth, the focus of enforcement moves from the violent, sexual criminal(s), who are _clearly_ (once you think of it in these terms) working in a concerted way, and therefore probably creating more than one victim _if anyone can be bothered to look_. The focus of enforcement centers on the _child_ _victim_.

I realize that this is complicated, but I feel like there is a pretty simple ideal that we could all agree on. If someone shows up with unambiguous evidence of violent sexual assault, they shouldn't become the target of prosecution for anything associated with that assault (if they robbed a bank the month before, feel free! But not for false or non-reporting or obstructing or whatever the fuck.). And if they are utterly crazy (in the actually having psychotic breaks sense), that should not be a reason to _not_ go after the responsible person(s) who violently sexually assaulted them. I also feel like if we take off the table the possibility of prosecuting the victim, maybe we'll focus on getting all those rape kits that are sitting around unprocessed moved through the system. As that happens, it is becoming very clear that there are a bunch of violent, repeat, sexual offenders who are raping women who police then dismiss as lying or making it up or whatever. Which is a ridiculous state of affairs and completely fixable, if we just focus on the physical evidence and quit expecting the victim to comport with our ludicrous notions of How Victims Should Behave.

I believe that we have legislation to this effect going in Congress at the moment that is currently hung up on the Hyde Amendment and I really hope that amendment can be removed because this is legislation we really need.

Finally, I feel like we are having a really weird parenting policy moment. At exactly the moment in time when we should be focusing on higher levels of supervision/surveillance on older children (and younger adults, potentially) to make sure they make it to full adulthood and development of executive function without landing in jail (where there is a high level of surveillance and a very low level of independence) or dying, we've got a loud fraction of white parents trying to dismantle this entire apparatus.

But you know, maybe it's not that weird. I mean, if you solve a problem thoroughly enough that you don't know anyone who has that problem, you might forget why you put all those procedures and protocols and safeguards in place and think it was okay to get rid of them. And we've been seeing _that_ kind of thinking about one thing (banking regulation) or another (vaccination) for a long while now.

Pew post-Snowden privacy and the guvmint survey

"These figures may in fact understate the lack of awareness among Americans because noteworthy numbers of respondents answered “not applicable to me” on these questions even though virtually all of them are internet and cell phone users."

Weird conclusion to come to.

Look. I used to hang out on the cypherpunks list. I did my time reading _Enterprise of Law_ and _Machinery of Freedom_. I knew about RSA and PGP and EFF when Snowden was the age of my _younger_ child. I looked at the list of things that Pew thought people might want to do post-Snowden wtfery (proxy server, Tor, Blur, DuckDuckGo), and I had long previously decided that everything on that list was way more trouble than it is worth. Way. More. Trouble. And I don't just mean how difficult is it, technically, to actually implement any of that.

Obvs, any sensible person contemplates the language that they use and how they would feel if that language was recorded and then consumed by someone other than the intended audience, and, sure, I have deleted comments and threads from social media when I thought the person who posted them on ones I control might someday regret those comments. Especially if there was any chance that my _failure_ to delete them might then reflect poorly on me. I'm sure if you looked hard enough, you could embarrass the fuck out of me with something I've got online (I spent a couple years in my late 20s _routinely_ flashing security cameras. That must have left _some_ kind of breadcrumbs).

But mostly, I figure I'm kinda right down the middle when it comes to Am I Gonna Be Perceived As A Problem By the Guvmint, and I'm pretty sure that's true of the vast majority of the people interviewed by Pew. And that's the _real_ reason nobody actually gives a fuck. The bummer is that everyone feels like they have to be that last extra bit paranoid, post-Snowden.

Save the emotional effort. You don't really care anyway, or you would have done something about it.

Debord, Transportation and Post-Ownership Society

There's a long line of people who have called Debord a communist, which I _think_ makes it absolutely hysterical that he writes for BI. I am not suggesting Debord is a communist. Altho I can definitely see where that temptation might come from.

Yesterday, I spent a bunch of time _trying_ to waste time reading news and not thinking very hard and I kept ... missing. And honestly, I have really had it up to here thinking about missing kids because that is just a heartbreaking subject. So let us return to Debord and the post-ownership transportation matrix, because after reading about Elon Musk weighing in on the get-rid-of-drivers side of the argument (Debord had positioned Elon Musk as being on the other side) I asked myself, Self, You Should Look Into Debord and This "Post-Ownership" Proposition, because that's what got you thinking about Graeber and Graeber reminded you of Wolff and all these people really want the world to Share More and Own Less. Which I don't have a problem with, except when the advocates start dragging in loony fantasies of an unrelated nature (cf Silicon Valley developer collectives developing the personal computer in the 1980s on laptops. Honestly, I'm never gonna stop finding that Hilarious.).

Here's what a teeny tiny amount of googling found:

As my friend J.K. notes, 2007 feels like about 20 minutes ago to Old People Like Us (okay, old like me, anyway. I'm sure he retains his youthful vigor.). When Debord was writing that article for the LA Times, it was about the wonders of Zipcar and Flexcar and their ready availability via the Internet.

I feel like Debord has a template for these articles. The idea is, I want a personal vehicle to go where I want to go. But I don't want to actually have to deal with it 24/7 with insurance and all that. Look, [Zip/Flex in 2007][Self-driving car in 2015] will be always available via [the Internet in 2007][apps on smartphones in 2015]. No Need to Own! Yay! To be fair, Uber is also invoked, altho it is never perfectly explained why taxis did not bring the Utopian World of Ownership Free Transportation Matrix into existence. Maybe because of state involvement in enforcing medallion monopolies?

Some of the arguments have evolved. For example, he used this one in November 2007:

"In many cases, freedom from vehicle ownership should allow people to put their money into investments that do not lose value as soon as they are driven off the dealer's lot."

Ha ha ha ha ha ha. Ahem. That was for everyone who remembers what happened to pretty much every investment on the planet shortly thereafter. (Someone's gonna point out gold. Okay, gold. Are you happy now?)

Anyway. The good news is, back in 2007 Debord was still willing to openly use words like communitarian (or maybe it was, when he was writing for the LA Times and not BI?) and collective, and say things like this:

"Individual ownership of something as complicated and labor intensive as transportation gradually will be supplanted by collective ownership of (or membership in) a vast system"

Which I don't see conspicuously present in the BI piece that caught my eye.

I feel like the Steve Jobs deal to avoid having to get a license plate could be mentioned at this point, but I'm tired, so maybe I'll just quit now.