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Post by Wrapitup on Fri Nov 13, 2009 4:27 pm

Missing kids in neighbor counties leads to local planning
By: Mark J. Crawford, Editor November 13, 2009

From the mysterious disappearance of Haleigh Cummings in Putnam County in February to the tragic case of Somer Thompson, who was abducted from Clay County and murdered last month, a great deal of attention has been placed on what to do when a child goes missing and how to keep kids safe.
Local law enforcement agency members along with representatives from government, the business community and the media met with Chris Bray of an organization known as A Child is Missing on Monday to discuss how it can put its tool into action within minutes of a missing child report being filed.
Capt. Brad Smith of the Bradford County Sheriff's Office said the proximity of the Cummings and Thompson cases raises the question of how Bradford County would respond were it to happen here.
BCSO employees Mike McKenzie, Gail Russell and Elizabeth Sheppard all spent time assisting in Clay County. After hearing what they had to say, Smith said Clay County seemed well prepared and said the sheriff's office wants to model a local response plan off of Clay's that involves a number of local agencies.
"It's a community event when it happens," Smith said.
Local response can quickly grow into a regional or statewide response and there needs to be an outline in place for how that is to happen, he said.
McKenzie has used A Child is Missing in the past and advocated it as one of the first steps local law enforcement should take because of how quickly information can be disseminated. With one phone call from an officer and a few answered questions, the Florida-based group can begin getting the word out.
Bray, a former law enforcement man himself, talked about the nonprofit organization, which has been around since 1997 and was formed because there was no nationwide program that could begin notifying people in a given area quickly when someone went missing.
A Child is Missing uses a telephone database tens of millions of numbers, a geo-mapping system and satellite imagery as its tools. When they get a call from an officer about a missing person case, representatives gather as much information as is available, from physical description to last known location, and any eye-witness information about what might have happened.
Technicians immediately begin mapping the area to look for dangers in the vicinity that law enforcement may want to check, such as wooded areas or bodies of water. They look for hot spots where a child may be hidden. They also begin putting together a recorded message containing the information provided by law enforcement.
Identifying a specific area, their system begins making hundreds or thousands of calls in the vicinity of the incident, widening the call area as needed. Citizens are provided with pertinent information and even sometimes asked to go outside and look around.
They are also told who to call with any information regarding the case, and call they do. A Child is Missing has been successful in locating missing or abducted children, some of whom have been found several states away. The organization also works to find seniors citizens who wander off, mentally or physically disabled individuals, etc.
Services are no cost to law enforcement agencies. A Child is Missing is funded by grants and private donations. All an agency has to do to participate is send a letter, Bray said.
The program is useful because if fills in the gap that exists from the initial report to the time there is enough evidence available to warrant an Amber Alert, he said.
Smith and Russell will be working to adapt the Clay County response plan to Bradford County-including tips for using A Child is Missing-and future round tables will be held to discuss the plan and the roles of other agencies in responding to missing person cases.
"Time is critical, and the better plan you have-the quicker you can get organized and get on task-the better off you are," Russell said.

Child safety meeting planned
On Monday evening, Nov. 16, the Bradford County School District is holding a child safety forum for parents. It will begin at 5:30 p.m. in the district boardroom.
Gwen Rhodes, a victim advocate from the office of the attorney general, will discuss Internet safety, and child safety tips will be offered by district safety specialist Bear Bryan, BCSO resource officer Sherri Mann and Lawtey Police Department's Lizzie Edenfield. There will also be discussion of bullying and harassment.
The meeting is not appropriate for children, but childcare is available on site at the Rainbow Center by calling 904-966-6039 by Friday, Nov. 13.
Domino's is providing free pizza and drinks for the meeting.

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