Rescues Five Runaways in the Same Week;
Last Year Assisted More Than 4,500 Children, Saving Many from Exploitation
During a five-day period, between March 30 and April 2, the five members of the Port Authority Bus Terminal’s Youth Services Unit identified five runaway children – two of them before their parents reported them missing – making this one of the most successful weeks in the unit’s 29-year history.
The recent week follows a stellar year for the unit in 2004. Among its many accomplishments were:
- returning 225 runaways to their homes;
- contacting the parents of 130 truants;
- locating six missing children;
- rescuing 11 kids from abuse;
- saving 267 from possible exploitative situations; and
- giving aid and comfort to 906 kids who found themselves in distress while traveling through the bus terminal without responsible adult supervision.
“We are very proud of the unit. It protects youths who often have nowhere else to turn for assistance,” said Samuel J. Plumeri Jr., Port Authority Director of Public Safety/Superintendent of Police. “Their efforts also help to curtail the activities of undesirables who seek to operate at the bus terminal and other public facilities.”
For almost 30 years, this dedicated team of police officers, social workers and administrators has canvassed the terminal’s two square blocks and surrounding streets identifying and addressing the problems and needs of kids at risk.
Since its creation in 1976, the unit has assisted over 80,000 youngsters passing through the facility. The unit has rescued children from the sex and drug trades, street gangs and abusive custodial situations. They have come in contact with runaway children from as far away as Alaska, Spain, Germany, Israel and Russia.
“Our job is to identify these kids before they can be exploited by adults who would do that,” said Sergeant William Finnie, who oversees the program’s day-to-day operations.
Port Authority Police Officer Steve Bocian, a 27-year veteran who has spent most of his career with the unit, said, “It always feels good when you can help get a kid on the right track. The work makes me feel like I’m making a difference.”
After the police bring in an at-risk youth, staff social workers try to ascertain the child’s situation.
“Once we figure out what’s going on, we use all of our resources to help the child,” said Quinette Johnson, a social worker who has been with the unit for 17 years. “This includes referring the child to social services agencies, beginning a police investigation if we believe a crime has been committed, or simply contacting the child’s parents or legal guardian.”
The unit has developed an outstanding reputation within the law enforcement and children’s services communities nationwide, and is often asked to assist other agencies.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey operates many of the busiest and most important transportation links in the region. They include John F. Kennedy International, Newark Liberty International, LaGuardia and Teterboro airports; AirTrain JFK and AirTrain Newark; the George Washington Bridge and Bus Station; the Lincoln and Holland tunnels; the three bridges between Staten Island and New Jersey; the PATH (Port Authority Trans-Hudson) rapid-transit rail system; the Port Authority-Downtown Manhattan Heliport; Port Newark; the Elizabeth-Port Authority Marine Terminal; the New York Container Terminal on Staten Island; the Brooklyn Piers/Red Hook Container Terminal; and the Port Authority Bus Terminal in midtown Manhattan. The agency also owns the 16-acre World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan.
The Port Authority is financially self-supporting and receives no tax revenue from either state.