When I was taking criminal investigation classes in college, students were taught typical investigations begin with looking at the most likely suspects and work your way outwards. Perhaps times have changed in the 20 years since I took my last criminal justice class; Braxton and Bri’ya Williams are missing in Jacksonville, FL and both local police and the media (particularly News 4 Jax) have devoted (read: wasted) valuable time and resources by focusing on the thirty registered persons living within a two-mile radius of the Williams family home. Meanwhile, unfavorable weather has interfered with searches to find the missing children in the surrounding areas. Time is of the essence, and people who could have been better used elsewhere have been assigned to harass registered persons in the area.
This is not a recent phenomenon, either. When Aliahna Lemmon was murdered in 2011, the focus was more on the fact the girl lived in a trailer park where 15 registered persons resided than on the person who murdered Aliahna. Among those registrants was Aliahna’s father, who was dying of cancer. (Apparently, his offense did not involve Aliahna in anyway.) The mugshot of Aliahna’s father was also plastered in many news stories about the murder despite having no connection to the murder other than being related to the child. Aliahna’s killer had no prior sex offense record but a history of physical assault, and there is not a national public registry for people who physically attack others.
Many crimes against children in general occur at home by someone the child knows, and rarely does this person have a prior record of crimes against children. Aliahna was killed by a trusted friend of the family, not by her father who was listed on the public registry and not by the 15 or so registered persons living in the trailer park.
As noted by the NISMART studies on missing children, stranger abductions are extremely rare; The NISMART-1 (1990) estimated 115 stereotypical kidnappings while the NISMART-3 (2011) estimated 105 stereotypical kidnappings. Perhaps more importantly, only 50 of the stereotypical kidnappings in the NISMART-1 and 63 of the estimated stereotypical kidnappings in the NISMART-3 involved “sexual assault or exploitation.” Of the total kidnapped, 45 in NISMART-1 and 8 in NISMART-2 were permanently missing or found dead. While each death is indeed a tragedy, it is an extremely rare tragedy, as there are over 71 million children in America. Experts estimate roughly 500 children are murdered annually by their own parents. The chances of a child dying by self-inflicted gunshot wounds (73 under age 12 accidentally killed themselves with guns in 2018) or choking to death on hot dogs (77 children in 2010) are still higher than the chances of being “stereotypically” kidnapped by a stranger for sexual purposes.
So why is the Jacksonville police wasting time on area registrants? The simple answer is found in two words – Predator Panic. It gives people a false sense of security whenever the police conduct these sweeps. They might arrest a registrant or two for not properly turning in all intrusive identification requirements or forsome petty criminal act like smoking a joint or missing a counseling appointment while on paper, then these police agents might hold a press conference proclaiming they are “making the streets safer.” Eventually, they may even crack the case of the missing children. While “stereotypical kidnappings” as America believes it to be does indeed exist, betting on the conclusion of this case will be found in the residence of an area registrant would be like betting on a 3 legged donkey winning the Kentucky Derby or the Cleveland Browns winning the Super Bowl.
While it may seem unfair to those who lose their loved ones to be questioned for potential wrongdoing by police, criminal investigations have always began with the most likely suspects. Investigating those closest to the child to eliminate them as potential suspects have always been the place to start in the past, but Predator Panic has turned this tried-and-form of investigation on its head.
Police often do not divulge every shred of information in criminal investigations because in high-profile cases like the Williams kidnappings, police are bombarded with false leads. Social media posts are flooded with armchair investigators peddling ideas they’ve learned mostly from trash TV shows like Law and Order SVU. While police generally ignore junk like “physic investigators,” the police have been sold on the equally useless public registry, and have wasted time and energy on dead ends. In all of my years covering Predator Panic, I have yet to see a case closed by conducting an area sweep of registered persons following a missing child case; if had ever happened, the media would have covered it and registry proponents would be using this anecdotal example to justify these investigation sweeps.
News 4 Jax retracted a statement from their so-called “Crime and Safety Expert” Ken Jefferson for erroneously stating a 90% re-offense rate. If only the media (and law enforcement) could retract their entire focus on registered persons having nothing to do with the missing children and divert the limited resources on actual police work.
Derek W. Logue of OnceFallen.com