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Kelli BailiffLt. Kelli Bailiff, left, of the Wyandotte County Sheriff’s Department received the national Law Enforcement of the Year Award recently from John Walsh in Washington, D.C.
National Missing Children’s Day is May 25, and one Wyandotte County law enforcement officer has been recognized nationally for her efforts to locate missing children.
There are few persons in America doing more to help the plight of missing children than Lt. Kelli Bailiff of the Wyandotte County Sheriff’s Department. Lt. Bailiff was awarded the national Law Enforcement of the Year Award recently by the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children.
Lt. Bailiff has helped recover 424 missing children since her “Child Search” program on KMBC-TV started 17 years ago.
She received the national award recently in Washington, D.C., from John Walsh, founder of the center, who is known for the “America’s Most Wanted” program. The award was presented in partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Office of Juvenile Justice.
“I was very surprised when I got the phone call,” Lt. Bailiff said. “When I found out John Walsh would be giving me the honor, it meant a lot to me. The true reward is when we can recover a child.”
She met John Walsh in 1996 and discussed starting a television program about missing children. He suggested a different network from his, so that information could get to more people.
“We get tons of leads whenever we put on a program,” Lt. Bailiff said about “Child Search.”
She estimated the number of cases of missing children at 3,000 to 4,000 a year. Some of the cases are from other areas, and may include children traveling through the area, she said, and there are many of those cases because this area is near major highways.
“I believe we only see a third of the cases,” she said. “There are many cases unreported, either solved very quickly, or some people are afraid to get involved.”
Some of the cases are parental abductions where a parent who doesn’t have custody takes a child; some children have run away; other cases are called “throwaway kids,” where a parent throws the kids to the street, she said. The last category includes the ones in danger of being caught up in drugs and sex trafficking, she added.
“People cannot assume kids on the street are runaways,” she said. Sometimes they have just had an argument with their parents, and are having a bad moment, she said.
Case leaves lasting impression
One of the cases that left a significant impression on her involved a girl from Chicago who was located many years ago, she said.
“A girl was being locked in the attic by her noncustodial father and the stepmother,” Lt. Bailiff said. “Her mother came down here and asked us to locate her. That was very rewarding; she was missing over three months and Oklahoma had been looking for the father.”
Lt. Bailiff started with the Sheriff’s Department in 1988, took a short break and came back three years ago. When Lt. Bailiff began her television program in 1997, she told everyone she thought there would be an increase in parents hurting their kids.
“That’s exactly what happened,” Lt. Bailiff said. “Over the years the number has increased.”
It’s difficult to say for certain whether it was economics or stress, parenting skills or family backgrounds that were responsible for the increase, she said.
“Unfortunately the number has gone up and it’s sad to see the cases that are occurring by these children’s own parents,” Lt. Bailiff said.
She said she would like to see parents recognize when they have a problem, and call and seek resources to get assistance.
“We need to work harder as a community,” Lt. Bailiff said. People need to call law enforcement if they see something suspicious, she added.
New Radio Disney program
Lt. Bailiff has a new outlet to help reach children this year.
Called “The Safety Seat,” the new show will be on Radio Disney, which is KPHN-AM 1190 in this area, and will reach children periodically and on the weekends, she said. She will also do public service announcements that will air throughout the day.
“I love being able to give out safety tips, to ask the public for leads, because it has been very successful,” Lt. Bailiff said.
The most important safety tip for children and parents is open communication, Lt. Bailiff said.
“It’s having a calm, clear, concise discussion with your children about the expectations of your rules for keeping your child safe,” she said.
If parents cannot communicate well with their children, they will not be able to speak to them about their expectations that will help the child make it home safe every day, she added.
Also, if a child feels comfortable about coming to parents to discuss ugly situations, it opens the door, she said.
“Stay calm, don’t lecture your kids, you don’t have to tell them the world is an ugly place, because most of the people are kind, good people,” she said. “You need to tell them what’s going on in the world, if a situation arises where they could potentially be harmed, you need to tell them.”
Most parents don’t know how to begin a conversation about safety tips, she added. Once they can do that, it becomes easier.
The new radio show will help provide another opportunity to provide safety tips and information for parents and kids, she said.