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New county unit to protect area children

By By BILL CRIST
Staff Writer
Every year in the United States children are the target of over 100,000 attempted abductions. There are over 450,000 runaways, 127,000 "throwaway" children and 400,000 cases of exploitation involving rape, sodomy, pornography and prostitution.
In Escambia County there have been eight reported cases of child exploitation since January 1. Resources to battle child exploitation are minimal, though, with only one unit in the entire southeast.
The number of units will double in the coming weeks, though, when the new Child Exploitation Unit (CEU) for Escambia County begins operations. The unit will be headed up by Dr. Art Spiro and will involve the Department of Human Resources, Escambia County Sheriff's Department, the medical community, the district attorney's office and the county commission.
Spiro said the scope of the unit will be the accurate evaluation of missing children, identifying children who are at risk, coordinating all law enforcement responses using written guidelines and developing procedures to integrate the response of all law enforcement agencies.
Although the unit will not actually begin operations for another couple of weeks, Spiro said that two officers have already begun training. The CEU is currently looking for office space and expects to have its headquarters in Brewton with a satellite office in Atmore.
According to County Commissioner David Stokes, the idea for the program came about following a discussion that he had with Larry Smith, a special investigator with the sheriff's department.
Stokes said the commission was very supportive of the idea and has 100 percent support from all the commissioners.
Local funding commitments will be minimal because much of the unit will be funded through ongoing grants available through the Department of Justice. Stokes said the commission's financial contribution would be primarily to cover travel, lodging and food while officers and members of the unit attend training.
Plans for the unit include a hot line that exploited children will be able to call for advice and help. The unit plans to begin a campaign to raise the public's awareness about the services that they offer in the near future.