Child abuse prevention, investigation should be statewide priority - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Child abuse prevention, investigation should be statewide priority

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Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at

Posted: Friday, December 2, 2011 7:00 am | Updated: 4:38 pm, Sat Dec 3, 2011.

On Oct. 7 following the sixth and seventh murders of two small children who'd been on "the radar" of local police and Arizona Child Protective Services, Gov. Jan Brewer ordered the establishment of the Arizona Child Safety Task Force to examine the state's current policies and practices when it comes to protecting children.

Kids who have been seen by CPS workers and law enforcement officers after reports of abuse and neglect and who are then further abused or even murdered by their caretakers has been an ongoing and tragic chapter in Arizona's history.

Considering Arizona's high unemployment rate, cutbacks in social services, health care and an endless supply of illegal drugs, crimes against children are only going to get worse if serious changes aren't made in how Arizona carries out child protection.

Many blame CPS for the statewide failure. For years the agency charged with protecting children has been continually underfunded, understaffed and had its mission micromanaged all courtesy of the state Legislature.

Others blame law enforcement agencies that are also cash strapped, undertrained and that have increasingly had their public safety mission dictated by legislators hell-bent on their own personal and political agendas.

While funding mechanisms have been created and millions and millions of tax dollars have been directed by the Legislature at the pet projects of key legislators and politically popular sheriffs, critical statewide law enforcement duties, including an increased response to the growing problem of child abuse, have been horribly neglected, underfunded and even unfunded by those with the power to make a difference.

In the last two years the Legislature has swept $1.8 million dollars from the state agency responsible for training law enforcement officers in the investigation of child abuse. While Texas offered over 60 three-day courses in the investigation of child abuse during 2011, Arizona offered ZERO! Arizona also has no statewide system to track those who physically and sexually abuse children and who can easily move from jurisdiction to jurisdiction undetected.

Officials from multiple agencies involved in the issue have told me of situations where there aren't enough CPS workers to work in partnership with law enforcement and other supporting agencies. CPS workers have told me of law enforcement officials being unable to respond to calls involving neglect and abuse and not being able to accompany workers on cases where a crime may have been committed against a child.

Law enforcement agencies across the state have long been the only agencies that are available to respond 24/7 to a call for help from a child or a concerned citizen. They, like CPS, can only do their jobs as well as they're staffed, trained and funded.

Over the last 15 years, dedicated judges, prosecutors, CPS workers, physicians, nurses, private contributors and local law enforcement agencies have taken it upon themselves and worked extremely hard to address the complex needs of those who have been neglected and physically and sexually abused.

Arizona's first advocacy center for abused children and victims of sexual assault was opened by the Mesa Police Department in 1996 by now retired police chief Jan Strauss, who investigated and supervised investigations of child abuse cases as a detective and sergeant. Now there are 18 locally run advocacy centers statewide where law enforcement works side by side with CPS, prosectors and medical professionals. The Mesa model that's received national acclaim has shown repeatedly when local law enforcement and other concerned parties work together and share resources, the chances of protecting a child are greatly enhanced and highly successful.

Even though the new state task force has a major effort ahead of it, there are proven models of success and funding mechanisms available to pull agencies and personnel together to be able to move rapidly in the right direction to protect children statewide.

Now Arizona, and especially the state Legislature, needs to follow Gov. Brewer's lead and make preventing and investigating crimes against children a statewide priority.

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