In January, 1996, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children partnered with retail giant Walmart, creators of “Code Adam” two years earlier, and quickly implemented by other major retailers nationwide. Code Adam was named after Adam Walsh, honoring the son of victim rights advocate and television host of America’s Most Wanted John Walsh. Six year-old Adam Walsh had been abducted from a Sears department store at the Hollywood Mall in Hollywood, Florida, in 1981. The child’s severed head was found in a drainage ditch sixteen days later. Not long after Adam’s abduction and murder, the Walsh’s began their quest for legislative reform through the Adam Walsh Child Resource Center, a non-profit organization aimed to strengthen laws and penalties against child predators, provide tools and resources to law enforcement and advocated for sex offender registries. The Adam Walsh Child Resource Center would later merge into the NCMEC, where John Walsh sits as one of it’s board of directors.
For years Walmart, like many corporations, had been a major donor to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, but in 1996, made the commitment to be proactive and became an active partner seeking results and fighting child exploitation. The strategy was simple- both the NCMEC and America’s largest retailer agreed that putting posters up of missing children would be the most effective way- not only bringing awareness to those missing, but potentially alerting someone they know of or may have recently seen. With 93 million Americans shopping at the retail giant once a week in 1996- the odds of someone spotting an abducted child or teenage runaway were significant. Starting in January 1996, Walmart used walls in their entrance vestibules at both store and Sam’s Club locations to display NCMEC posters, which were the highest traffic areas of stores. Displaying posters of missing children right there was perfect they believed, catching customers on their way into the store and on their way out. Everyday, millions of customers visiting over 4,000 Walmart locations would see these posters.
Initially the partnership between the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and Walmart was considered a major success, not just in NCMEC’s view and good press in the eyes of the Walton heirs, but was seemingly the general consensus among victim advocacy groups, law enforcement and most important of all, the general public. Having been employed at Walmart personally just two years after it’s roll out, I can confirm how serious and important the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s board was in Walmart’s culture. There were some critics at the time and to this very day, complaining that Walmart was less serious about the program itself and more serious about the damage to the retail chain’s “image” when it came to community relations.
Not long after, critics (myself included) began to point out that not only was the NCMEC’s board displayed at a rather inconvenient spot in Walmart stores- especially locations where it’s freezing cold or blistering hot and customer’s first goal is to get into our heated or cooled sanctuary of eternal low price bliss. Even in ideal conditions, it’s rather rude to suddenly stop in high traffic areas when others are behind you, those whom are in such a hurry because if they’re not home in the next twenty minutes- the world is going to fucking explode. You should thank them, but stopping them is not only dangerous for you, but for the rest of us. The worse part, Walmart showed customers and victim advocates exactly how much they really cared about “missing and exploited children”. Most of the posters were ripped, crumpled & damaged from the wind. The remaining if not missing, were dirty, faded and worse- dated from the year prior. No matter what Walmart I was at, local or out of state, east coast or west coast, north or south, city or small town, it seemed the store’s culture was “just have it” for shameless self promotion.
Now if you personally spent time on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s website looking over Walmart’s “missing kids” posters online & NCMEC policy and standards, you’d know that’s not to be just some “missing kids” board that the “evil corporation” you’re forced to shop at; orders their stores to post up random posters on a quarterly basis. The boards are actually managed, designed and controlled by the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children who update’s those displays weekly. Walmart’s end of the deal is to ensure it meets their standards and is up to date by checking it everyday,
Almost every single one of us here in the United States done it at least once a week(sometimes more, just depends on how many times we visit) for years- we walk into Walmart and pass a display of posters featuring missing children. Now, I’ll give a shout out to those who have swore off the “King of Kings” retailer as I once did. Yes, I once went two years without walking into a Walmart store. No, it wasn’t because I bought into the contemporary pop culture “evil corporation” trope once a science fiction cliche warning us of the evils of anything corporations did outside of profiting, because that was what they were supposed to be doing- even in fiction. My issue was not just their customer service, but their non-existent service and lack of quality brands. When I was a general manager regardless of the business, I’d take my managers into our local Walmarts as an example of how NOT to run our stores, maintain them and treat our staff & customers. My first stop was always the NCMEC posters in the vestibules simply because it was a partnership program serving the community for something serious. A simple ten minute task that could not only change lives, but save them. No matter where we went, they looked like complete shit. The posters looked like half-decade-old flyers found on telephone poles in the abandoned industrial zones of Detroit. My personal shopping experiences were much worse than my staff tours, because I was an actual customer. I simply quit shopping there.
Some will argue that the only thing that matter’s is the end result. Well let’s take a look at that shall we?
January 19, 2004, eight years after the partnership between the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and Walmart rolled out, according to this article posted by the company, Walmart announced the 100th recovery a missing child as a direct result of Walmart’s involvement. The metric is based on either a Walmart associate or customer calling in the sighting of a missing child featured on the NCMEC boards in Walmart stores. According to same the article, 2003 was a record year for Walmart with 23 missing children recovered. What the article doesn’t tell you, is just the year prior, Walmart in cooperation with the NCMEC(after much pushing, begging and pleading by the organization) joined AMBER Alert Highway Network a resource ensuring more than 8,000 Walmart truck drivers received AMBER Alerts.
Where does it stand in the fourteen years since? Well according to an internal memo to stores dated July, 20, 2018, from it’s community relations wing, The Walmart Foundation- a paltry 256 children have been recovered in 22 years.
In it’s first eight years, Walmart’s partnership with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children resulted in the recovery of 103 children. In the 14 years since then? 153. Walmart went from taking credit in recovering one child a month, to taking credit in recovering less than one child a month. This point is, the number was insignificant and still is.
Is Walmart taking Missing and Exploited Children seriously after 22 years or is this another stunt after ridicule? It doesn’t matter…
One day hell froze over one day and I didn’t know it. It wasn’t on the news and to this very day, nobody has spoke about it. Suddenly Walmart dramatically improved customer service, finally accepted that education is valuable(no bullshit, when I worked there about 20 years ago, managers and their training modules said college was absolutely worthless) and started carrying some quality brands, and just like that(fingers snap) I surrendered to my “low price” master. Okay you got me, it just became very hard to drive twenty miles to find things I need since they shutdown nearly every single business selling consumer goods within ten miles of my local Walmart. It’s either Walmart or the mall and surrounding specialty stores over twenty miles away, so it became a necessity- “under duress” to go back for more. Surprisingly, the culture was completely different, which I had been hearing from folks (that I regrettably assumed and told everyone that would listen, that they had a severe drinking problem).
I was impressed. But, that was over ten months ago.
Despite their customer service improvement, however, I found myself walking into Walmart passing their “missing kids” board. Yes, very first issue with Walmart I had long felt necessary to point out to managers that I was training long ago, I no longer paid attention to. Just a couple months after I started going back into Walmart I noticed another glaring improvement in Walmart stores, a serious issue that they should have been ashamed of for years. Three people were there looking at that NCMEC board. That very moment, I made it a commitment that I’d take a moment to look at the board each and every time I walk into the store, “just in case” in the very unlikely event I came across one of those missing kids- just like we’re all suppose to.
The National Center of Missing and Exploited Children displays at Walmart stores and other NCMEC affiliates are important commitments to the organization and they’re required to be up-to-date and up to NCMEC standards at all times. Today, most of the local stores in my area have kept NCMEC’s boards pristine and in strict compliance, which is a great thing. Years ago, the first thing I’d do is walk up to the NCMEC displays with my staff and take a moment to deride Walmart not only for where they placed the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children posters, but the condition of them, leaving them ripped, crumpled & damaged from the wind. There always was a few posters missing and the remaining were always dirty, faded and worse- dated from the year prior. Just like Walmart did for years, not take those posters seriously, neither did I. Those posters were a training opportunity for me to use to teach my staff just what a piece of shit the company was and what they shouldn’t do. Never once did I have them look at posters for missing kids, because I didn’t even think of it. I knew those posters were important, but because they looked like shit and weren’t “up to standard”, I didn’t even give them a look to see if I recognized one, no matter how poor of a condition thhey were in.
Today it’s just a little bit different and no, it’s not just some small win for the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children and consolation prize for Walmart… it’s a win for missing kids. Walmart’s recent modernization campaign of their stores was long overdue and at least in my region, the NCMEC displays are usually posted up right in front of the self-checkouts areas at both ends of the building, right above the bulk items on pallets, ATM & change machines and their ice freezer. Now I’ve also been in Walmarts that have a single display on one side or more towards the middle by Customer Service and the “Pick Up Lounge”. Regardless, I’ve seen a significant amount of folks taking a moment to look at posters of missing kids on the wall. Even if just a handful of folks look at missing kids posters each day at their local Walmart, with over 5,300 discount stores, Sam Clubs, Supercenters and Neighborhood Markets; that’s thousands of people made aware of missing children each day. With 95% of Americans shopping at Walmart once a month, just imagine that if for each and every shopper looked at those posters just once a year?
Today the Walmart & NCMEC partnership has ensured that care and respect for the NCMEC display and not something just to play up the Walmart brand under the ruse of “we care for the community” like their embarrassing “Made in America” bullshit years ago. From what I’ve seen and asked a few people elsewhere to check out, stores seem to serious about it and ensure it’s professionally presented and cared for- for the right reasons- our missing children. In locations where it didn’t make much sense, the boards were moved from store vestibules and brought inside to the wall by the self-checkouts, which I’ve personally seen more folks check them out. Speaking with a front-end manager at my local 24 hour Walmart, during shift changes especially in the morning hours, there is a daily directive that the NCMEC board is updated and looked after daily. Whether to fix posters that get damaged or the weekly update on missing children in the region, someone checks it over to ensure it’s up to NCMEC standards- just as the board honoring our local servicemen and women protecting our nation. The board is updated weekly when the weekly reminder is sent out over Walmart’s network, a manager goes to http://www.missingkids.com/gethelpnow/search/posters/ncmec_walmart and prints out the current week’s posters for missing kids from or suspected on being in their specific zone. There are seven zones total, with six of the zones in the continental United States each zone being a group of states in the same region. Zone seven is Puerto Rico. An associate then puts the posters up on the NCMEC board. Then when a NCMEC child is located, there is an alert set to the Walmart’s in that specific zone and replaced with another missing child.
Unless I was using the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children display at Walmart to teach my staff on “how not to run a store”, I passed promptly passed it like everyone else does a damn hurry. Here we are in America’s largest retailer, which almost every American visits dozens of times annually… I have no doubt that thousands of those missing children featured on the NCMEC display entered and exited the very stores they were featured at and nobody noticed. Regardless if they were runaways, kidnapped by a parent or stranger voluntarily or involuntarily, the place you’re most likely going to see a missing kid? Walmart. Since this True Crime Renaissance, whether or not you jumped on the bandwagon or your journey began by watching Unsolved Mysteries and 60 Minutes in diapers, it’s no sacrifice to take a moment to look over that display in virtually every Walmart that exists in America. Make it a habit to take a moment one visit a month to take a look while you’re there. Even if you’re really busy or have anxiety in public places, spend just a few minutes to review the picture and keep an eye out. It’s not a major sacrifice of your time, your time just isn’t that valuable. If it was your kid, you’d wish everyone would just take a moment to do.
You’re more likely to spot one a missing kid at a Walmart than anywhere else, including your computer, tablet or phone. If Walmart can finally change it’s culture in how it cares for and presents that board, so can we. Locating just 256 kids in 22 years being featured at America’s largest retailer is unacceptable. Nobody wins or loses, just those kids. Of 15,765 kids featured at Walmarts nationwide, 13,821 have been recovered. Which means we’re losing over 12% of them.
NCMEC can only do so much and Walmart has cleaned up their act. Time for us to step up. We can do better.