There currently are more than 150 active Project ALERT representatives, each of whom averages more than 20 years of law enforcement service. These volunteers have backgrounds in federal, state and local investigative agencies, and have served at all ranks.
According to Ernie Allen, president and CEO of NCMEC, "We may have an agency that is not sure what to do, doesn't know how to organize a search or has a long-standing case. They would like an expert to come in and take a look at it with two fresh eyes to see what else can be done."
That's where the Project ALERT volunteers step in. At the request of the investigating agency, the group will perform a myriad of tasks, including acting as case consultants, performing long-term case reviews, conducting witness interviews, helping with address verifications, providing surveillance, acting as search-and-rescue coordinators, and serving as family liaisons.
Project ALERT representatives also will perform community outreach services for the requesting agency, including taking the role of a public speaker or roll-call trainer, or staffing a conference booth.
Another mode of assistance through NCMEC is Team Adam, a resource patterned after the National Transportation Safety Board's system for sending specialists to the site of serious transportation incidents. Rather than focusing on transportation incidents, Team Adam sends trained, retired law enforcement officers to the actual site of serious child abductions and cases of child sexual exploitation.
The specialists, who work in full cooperation with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, take an advisory role only. Their purpose is to assist local investigators, provide access to NCMEC's extensive human and technological resources, and assist the victism's family and the media as needed. Team Adam also provides the latest computer and communications technology to the investigating agency to enable rapid distribution of critical information to other agencies and personnel.
The fact that Team Adam specialists work at the invitation of the investigating agency and serve only as advisors is something that team member Ron Olive stresses. "We never come in and take over a case," Olive says. "That's not why we're there."Searching a landfill
In May 2004, the Lubbock County (Texas) Sheriff's Office received a report that 16-year-old Joanna Rogers was missing. For two years, rescuers searched for her, but to no avail. Then, in 2006, they got a break. A local suspect in a murder case admitted choking the teen and stuffing her body into a suitcase, which he then left in a Dumpster.
The next step for the Lubbock agency was to confirm the suspect's story by locating the body, but this presented a huge problem, according to Capt. Tony Menchaca. "We knew nothing about landfill searches," Menchaca says. "But NCMEC sent in Lee Manning and Ron Olive to help."
Manning, a retired lieutenant with 28 years of experience in search and rescue with the Massachusetts State Police, is a current member of the board of directors of Northeast Wilderness Search and Rescue Inc. in Ware, Massachusetts. He brought to the Lubbock case his experience as a former Incident Management Assistance Team commander and state police civilian search and rescue coordinator.
Olive, who spent 30 years in law enforcement, including 22 with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) where he worked mostly in counter-intelligence and also served as an ASAC, is an expert in searching landfills. Tasked with finding the dismembered body of a sailor while working for NCIS, Olive says he contacted other law enforcement agencies and did a lot of research to figure out how to conduct a landfill search. One of the few experts on this topic, Olive is presently putting together a guide on searching landfills for law enforcement agencies.
Last year, these retired officers used their expertise to lend a hand to the Lubbock Sheriff's Office. After a month and a half of strategizing, the agency was ready to begin the search. But they ran into another problem — money. Although NCMEC's services are free, the sheriff's office had to finance the $4 to $5 million needed for equipment, uniforms, food, water, decontamination and other items necessary for a landfill search.