Recovery of missing New York girl emphasizes the value of abduction response planning and preparation

Last Saturday a true nightmare played out in New York State. A nine-year-old girl was abducted while riding her bike in a state park where she was camping with her family. Through a fortunate set of circumstances, including a well organized and prompt response by law enforcement, the girl was recovered two days later from a cabinet within a camper where her abductor had held her. Read details of the recovery here.

Fortunately, most missing children cases end well, and only a small percentage of them involve a stranger abduction. But when a child goes missing, no one can assume anything, especially law enforcement. By all accounts, the law enforcement response to this missing child report was critical to the child’s successful recovery.

The case emphasizes the value of law enforcement, at all levels, having well-written and trained upon-abduction response plans. Such cases are rare, but when they occur, they can be devastating to the impacted family, the community, and to the law enforcement officers who respond. A well-prepared law enforcement response can mean the difference between a successful recovery or a lifetime of heartache.

When I served as the Detective Unit Commander with the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, I was fortunate to have the support to attend a course at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in Virginia. NCMEC trains all levels of law enforcement in the best practices of abduction response.

As a result of that training, we put into place a comprehensive abduction response plan that incorporated all facets of response — initial patrol response and searches, investigative follow-up, coordinating volunteer efforts, involving the media, activating the “Amber Alert” system, and coordinating with state and federal law enforcement resources.

Though we never had to put the plan into action, we regularly reviewed the plan, ensuring that specific investigators oversaw specific parts of the plan and that they were given the time and resources to ensure their part of the plan was functional.

The key is not to let minutes or hours go by without action. NCMEC statistics emphasize the critical importance of the first three hours of an abduction response. Speed often correlates with success.

A related and sensitive concern is that with missing children reports, the family of the missing child must be investigated thoroughly to rule out any involvement. This must happen simultaneously with the other efforts to locate the child. Pre-planning and training for this reality can keep the investigation moving while necessary investigative follow-up with the family occurs.

The prompt response and successful recovery of the child in the recent New York case serves as a reminder of the importance of law enforcement to dedicate resources towards planning and training to ensure its abduction response is successful.

Public policy at the local, state, and federal level that values the importance of abduction response planning, preparation, and coordination makes for sound public safety and helps ensure the best possible outcomes.

(Photo credit – National Criminal Justice Training Center)