Attorney General Steve Bullock on Monday announced the creation of the Children’s Justice Center, a collaborative initiative to better protect Montana children and prosecute child predators.
“When I became attorney general, I wanted to develop a new approach to addressing crimes against kids in Montana – the Children’s Justice Center,” Bullock said in a news conference Monday at the Billings Police Department training facility. “The center was born out of two goals. We wanted to make sure that anyone who hurts a child is investigated, arrested, prosecuted and convicted. And we wanted to do more to help Montana’s youngest victims.”
The Children’s Justice Center brings under one umbrella six Department of Justice programs as well as two statewide partnerships in order to focus resources, provide better training and coordination, and instill a renewed commitment to the fight against child abuse and sexual assault. The six DOJ programs are: Sexual Predator Enforcement Unit; Sexual or Violent Offender Registry (SVOR); SVOR Compliance Unit; Montana Child Sexual Abuse Response Teams (MCSART); Child Protection Attorneys; and Child Abduction Response Team (CART). The statewide partnerships are with the Montana Drug Endangered Children Alliance (DEC) and the Montana Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC).
Dana Toole, who has been on the leading edge of child protection services for almost three decades, will be the director of the Children’s Justice Center. Bullock announced the creation of the Children’s Justice center in a press conference and in a report, which highlights the details.
Three years in the making, the individual DOJ programs combined to form the Children’s Justice Center are already having a major impact on how the state responds to child abuse cases. For instance, through the Center and its partnership with the ICAC task force, the DOJ created a Sexual Predator Enforcement Unit comprised of two special investigators, a prosecutor and a forensic computer specialist. This unit has already initiated more than 60 investigations in Montana, resulting in the arrest and prosecution of eight men, all of whom were charged with sexual abuse of children.
Under Bullock’s leadership, the DOJ also created a Sexual or Violent Offender Registry Compliance Unit consisting of two investigators and an analyst who assist local authorities in tracking down non-compliant offenders. Over the past six months, the compliance unit has reduced the number of non-compliant sex offenders in Montana from 272 in August 2011 to 106 on Feb. 9, 2012. In Yellowstone County alone, the compliance unit and the sheriff’s office together located all 94 non-compliant sexual or violent offenders.
Not only will the Children’s Justice Center focus on putting child abusers behind bars, it is changing the way we approach child victims, who in the past were typically subjected to multiple interviews in clinical or intimidating locations. Since 2008, the DOJ has worked through the MCSART program to create multi-disciplinary teams who work together to ensure child victims have only one first-rate forensic interview in a child-friendly environment. There are now 17 such multi-disciplinary teams across the state with more on the way with the goal of better serving child victims and increasing the likelihood that offenders are convicted.
“As Montana’s attorney general, I serve as the state’s top lawyer and its chief law enforcement officer. I’m also a dad, with three young kids who are at the center of everything I do,” Bullock said. “When it comes to kids, all of these roles come together in one mission that is more important to me than any other – keeping Montana’s kids safe.”