What It Takes

Ernie Allen

Ernie Allen graduated from the University of Louisville Law School, but chose a career in public service in Louisville and Jefferson County, Ky. -- including work as crime commissioner and public safety. His work made him aware of tragic cases of child exploitation -- the kidnapping of 6-year-old Etan Patz as he walked to school in New York, the Atlanta children who were abducted and murdered -- and he urged the Justice Department to create a national strategy. In 1981 he met John and Revé Walsh, whose public search for the abductor and killer of their son, Adam, focused international attention on violence against children.

The Allen and the Walshes joined forces, and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children was founded. Twenty-two years later, Allen is president and chief executive of the Alexandria-based operation, which helps thousands of children each year. He lives in Northern Virginia with his wife of 25 years, Linda Broadus, and their two rescued pet cats.

Why he's successful: "All of the positions I have held have required me to bring people together, create partnerships and find creative solutions for difficult problems. For example at NCMEC, I convened a Financial Coalition Against Child Pornography composed of leading banks, credit card companies, Internet companies and others to eradicate commercial child pornography. The impact has been remarkable. The Treasury Department recently reported that commercial child pornography had declined from an estimated multibillion-dollar industry to 'effectively zero,' citing enforcement and the role of financial companies in shutting down payment options."

Biggest obstacle: "My biggest challenge when I first became president of NCMEC was to build a coordinated, national response to the problem of missing and exploited children. To succeed, I needed to build the trust and confidence of the nation's 18,000 different police departments, who did not always communicate well with each other. It took time, but we were able to accomplish that by working tirelessly behind the scenes to provide them with whatever resource they needed in a timely way."

First job: Allen grew up in a working-class family. His father worked as a machinist for the old Standard Oil Co. His mother was a court clerk. "My first job was working with various horse trainers on the back side of Churchill Downs. I walked the horses after they were trained, hosed them down and gave them a bath, fed them carrots and sugar cubes and mucked or shoveled their stalls .... I did not get paid .... My first paid job was driving a delivery truck for a local hardware store, which was a primary provider of building supplies for new-home construction sites. I also worked at Churchill Downs on [Kentucky] Derby Day carrying hot dogs, buns, cups and other items through the drunken crowd in the in-field to the concession stands -- not an easy task."

Best job: "I have held a lot of great jobs, but would have to say that my current position ... is the best. There is a scoreboard every day. We measure our success in terms of human lives. I like the ability to make a difference, to touch the lives of people, particularly children."

Smartest move: "Recognizing early on that technology would play a key role in revolutionizing the way America searches for missing children and that technology would also become a significant component of the victimization of children. The partnership that we have built with the technology industry has enabled NCMEC to obtain and use cutting-edge technologies to address problems as well as anticipate problems before they emerge."

His legacy: "In 1984, police could enter information about stolen cars, stolen guns and even stolen horses into the FBI's national crime computer, but not stolen children. That is no longer the case. More missing children come home safely today and more is being done today to protect children than any time in the nation's history. Our recovery rate today is 97 percent, compared to 62 percent in 1962.

What lies ahead: "There are still thousands of children who do not make it home each year and more who fall victim to sexual exploitation. An estimated 800,000 children are reported missing each year, more than 2,000 children every day. An estimated one in five girls and one in 10 boys will be sexually victimized before age 18. Every child deserves a safe childhood. A lot more needs to be done."

What inspires him: "I am inspired every day by average people doing average things but who, through paying attention and caring, help us find a missing child .... I see it all the time -- the motorist who hears an Amber Alert and alerts authorities, leading to a child's recovery; the shopper at a mall who sees a child being dragged kicking and screaming toward the parking lot and calls us ... Some years ago, a California woman on vacation in Mexico saw a little American boy all by himself on the beach and was troubled by it ... She called us. He had been abducted in North Carolina and taken to Mexico. The abductor was apprehended and the child reunited with his family. We have thousands of stories like that."

Advice to the aspiring: "Hire people smarter than you are and listen to them."


Avis Thomas-Lester

 |  December 14, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  |  Category:  success stories Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Thanks! I was a victim at the age of eight by an older guy whom I took to be a friend . I am sixty five and a pastor. I work with boys; girls;men and women and with GODS help I aid them with their recovery so they can become a whole person again. If I can be of help please let me know. GOD BLESS YOU!

Posted by: preach1 | December 23, 2010 9:22 PM
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Thanks! I know how it fells to be taken and used! I was taken to pick plums when I was 8 and when we got there I was sexually victimized by this older guy whom I took to be my friend. I am 65 and a pastor; if I can be of help please let me know!GOD BLESS YOU! I talk to young boys;girls; men and women who need help dealing with the truma.With GODS help I aid them with recover so they can live without fear and be a whole person again.

Posted by: preach1 | December 23, 2010 9:12 PM
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A Criminal Justice Degree from "United Forensic College" led me to a point in life I thought I would never reach.

Posted by: merelevi | December 14, 2010 1:20 AM
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If you are looking a good Criminal Justice degree I strongly recommend "United Forensic College" there you can get the best training to solve crimes.

Posted by: merelevi | December 14, 2010 1:19 AM
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you can help solving these crimes with a Criminal Justice Degree, search the internet for "United Forensic College"

Posted by: merelevi | December 14, 2010 1:18 AM
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