Training session held for local Child Abduction Response Team
An Amber Alert goes out: A young girl has gone missing from Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers where she was attending a ballgame with her father.
The local Child Abduction Response Team, or CART, responds to the scene.
CART is a multi-agency team comprised of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies that is designed to mobilize immediately and provide investigative resources to a lead agency when a child is abducted, according to officials. CART serves as a force multiplier with a preplanned response.
The Fort Myers team consists of 43 agencies from 10 counties, including Lee, Charlotte, Collier, Glades and Hendry. On Monday, representatives from nearly all of the agencies met at the stadium for the mock abduction to hone their skills. In total, 117 officers and more than 50 volunteers participated.
“Training is the best way to make sure we’re ready,” said Capt. Lisa Barnes of the Cape Coral Police Department.
According to Barnes, the exercise gives the agencies an opportunity to go through the process, work out any problems and review the paperwork that goes along with a child abduction investigation and how to properly fill it out.
“It’s to make sure that everybody’s on the same page,” Barnes said.
At the stadium, the officers were divided up into 57 groups and each was assigned a task. Some conducted search and rescue using K-9s and the grid, and others canvassed the girl’s “neighborhood” and nearby “businesses” — vehicles parked outside the stadium with mock addresses posted on paper.
Some of the groups met with the girl’s family and gathered information about the child, and some followed up on “leads” that were called in by the public through a special program.
There were even teams that checked on real, registered sexual offenders in the region and conducted interviews.
“We will perform as we are trained,” said Special Agent Supervisor Tammy Roane of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. “If we train for real life, we will perform that way.”
Cape Det. John Howes spent the day canvassing homes and businesses. He said 40 “calls” generated from the Amber Alert produced 32 “leads,” and out of those leads only about 10 provided enough information for a capture.
“We found the girl alive and captured the suspect,” he said.
Through questioning and “tips,” the officers learned from “witnesses” — local college students serving as volunteers — that a man was seen holding a girl’s hand and dragging her through the ballpark’s parking lot. They traced the vehicle and tag to a home and found the missing girl yelling in a shed.
Howes said the “mock” abductor turned out to be a ballpark employee.
“I thought it was very realistic,” he said. “It’s something that could happen at any time.”
According to Roane, statistics show that the longer a child is missing, the less likely it is that the child will be found safely. She said Monday’s exercise did two things: allowed the agencies to work on their mobilization time and enabled them to work together, improving communication and cutting time.
“It’s important that we all learned to work with one another smoothly,” she said. “In a child abduction investigation, time is a critical factor.”
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, there were 797,500 children younger than 18 reported missing in a one-year period of time — an average of 2,185 children each day. Of those, 203,900 were the victims of family abductions and 58,200 were the victims of non-family abductions.
One hundred and fifteen were the victims of “stereotypical” kidnapping. These crimes involve someone the child does not know or someone of slight acquaintance, who holds the child overnight, transports the child at least 50 miles, kills the child, demands ransom or plans to keep the child permanently.