Welcome to ABP, New York Chiefs - A service for New York's Police Executives. Now, Mr. Mark Spawn, Director of Research, Development and Training for the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police.
In a previous podcast we talked about activation criteria for an AMBER Alert. We also have a podcast available for those cases that do not meet alert criteria. Today let's think about your department's strategy for responding to reports of missing children.
In the studio with me today is Ken Buniak, Program Manager for the DCJS Missing and Exploited Children Clearinghouse. Ken, thanks for joining me today. Let's talk about how we assess missing children reports.
It's often impossible to determine the degree of danger a child is in until preliminary assessment has been conducted. So a consistent well formed assessment is crucial.
What kind of information should be considered in that assessment?
You need to ask: Is there a witness to, of evidence of, abduction or other foul play? What's the child's zone for safety for their age and developmental stage? And the beliefs of those closest to the child, especially family members, should be given extra attention. You also need to consider the child's lifestyle. How long they've been missing, if the reporting party may have underestimated the time the child has been missing, and the actions of the child before he or she went missing.
What about the child's emotional state?
Yes, you need to find out whether the child was despondent, whether they were experiencing academic, personal or family problems, and if they are mentally or physically disabled. And you have to ask about any drug or alcohol problems.
What are some other things we should look at?
Whether the child is missing for home or another location, if the child ever received threats, and if there is any evidence of on-line enticement. You also have to be concerned with any custody issues or domestic disputes.
Ken, what if we develop information that a child has been abducted by a family member?
We need to know whether the abducting family member has every harmed the child in the past, or whether there was a threat stated or implied, to harm the child now.
What other things should be part of the initial response?
Get a detailed description of the child including clothing. Get a recent photo, sooner rather than later. Conduct a fairly thorough search of the place of disappearance and the immediate area. Interview everyone available who may have information. Obtain additional help if warranted, for example, search dogs. Ensure that information is broadcast as widely as possible.
Let me ask you about how soon a missing child report has to be entered into NCIC?
Since the 1980s, Federal and State statutes have been very clear. The investigating police agency must immediately enter missing child information into NCIC files and investigative action must be taken. As of
2006, pursuant to the Adam Walsh act, reports must be entered within 2 hours and they cannot be removed when the child turns 18 unless he or she has been recovered.
And there's no waiting period for someone to make a missing persons report, right?
Exactly. This is an area where you want the report to be made as quickly as possible. Experience has shown that regardless of the category, including runaways, a missing child can be in significant danger.
Another question that sometimes comes up in missing persons cases is, who takes the report?
There are no federal or state laws that address this issue, and sometimes agency policies can be in conflict with each other causing family members to get caught in a policy maze. As a matter of practicality, it is recommended that the report be filed where the child was last seen, since this is where the best evidence may be. I like to use the analogy of stolen cars - we don't make complainants go to their home jurisdiction to make the theft report, right? Why should children be any different? And by talking the report, even if a referral is made to another agency thereafter, you can be certain that you were in compliance with the mentioned state and federal requirements.
Think about your strategy for responding to a report of a missing child. Make sure you have copies of the missing person data collection guide and AMBER alert activation guide available. Check your department's policy too. Remember there are no waiting periods. And don't let family members get caught up in a policy maze. Ensure that some agency is taking the case promptly. These are cases that require a quick response and can easily span more than one jurisdiction. Prepare now so you'll be ready when a missing child case happens on your beat.
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